Gun-control activists turn up pressure on Pennsylvania lawmakers

A commission of Pennsylvania lawmakers and state officials is working in Harrisburg to come up with a plan to pay down the state's pension debt. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

A commission of Pennsylvania lawmakers and state officials is working in Harrisburg to come up with a plan to pay down the state's pension debt. (Matt Rourke/AP Photo)

Crowds of students and activists flooded Harrisburg Tuesday, calling for changes to help halt school shootings.

It’s not the first time there’s been a push like this in the state capitol. In fact, it’s not even the first time this year. Similar efforts have happened behind a range of bills over the last several legislative sessions — usually after mass shootings, such as the one in a Santa Fe, Texas high school last week that killed ten people.

Almost none of the measures, however, have been signed into law.

This time around, lawmakers and advocates have identified at least a few areas that might have enough support to pass the Legislature.

A proposal that would make it harder for convicted domestic abusers to possess weapons passed the Senate unanimously and is on-track for House consideration in the near future. It also has the blessing of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.

Plus, there’s a so-called “red flag” bill with bipartisan support that would let police or family members ask a court to temporarily seize guns from a person in crisis.

Shira Goodman with CeaseFire PA said while she’d like to make major changes to assault-weapon and ammunition sales, she’ll settle for proposals that can actually pass.

“We’re not talking about bans. We’re not talking about licensing and registration, which also work,” she said. “We’re talking about, can we get something done?”

A measure expanding background checks to include gun show purchases also has some bipartisan support, but may not have enough to pass the Republican-controlled legislature.

Points of contention remain.

Standing outside a conference room where Philadelphia and Pittsburgh high school students were discussing urban gun laws, Shannon Williams, also with CeaseFire PA, said one of the group’s key goals is knocking down a proposal that would let schools allow trained employees to carry guns.

“There’s plenty of spaces in the bill where we can see it could have a negative impact on our students,” she said, “particularly our most vulnerable and our students who are looked at as being more violent, even if that’s not true.

“Our kids who are targeted and who are exposed to violence are often not protected by our systems,” she said.

The bill’s largely-Republican backers say it would merely give schools more options to put their own safety measures in place.

Along with regulatory changes, there has been talk of routing more money for schools to bulk up existing security. Though there has been little concrete action thus far, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, a top GOP official, said this week that it’s a priority he’s planning to shoehorn into impending budget negotiations.

“We know it isn’t easy to find money,” he said, “but I am going to make it my priority to find the money, and find it in a big way in order to help our schools, our administration, our teachers, and our students go to school and come home safe.”

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