Democrats continue advancing gun control as advocates call for Pa. Senate to take up bills

Gun control legislation has been advanced by the Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania House but not considered by the GOP-led Senate.

(Stephen Caruso/ Spotlight PA)

(Stephen Caruso/ Spotlight PA)

This story originally appeared on Spotlight PA.

A Pennsylvania House panel is expected to consider bills intended to prevent children and teens from accessing firearms as advocates for stricter gun laws call on the state Senate to take up legislation.

The state House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to consider a bill Tuesday that would require the secure storage of firearms in homes with children and another bill that would create penalties for guardians and parents who allow a minor to possess or use a firearm. The latter legislation would apply only in cases where the minor has previously been convicted of a crime or is known to be at risk of committing violence.

After more than a decade out of power, Democrats took control of the lower chamber this year with a one-vote majority. Since then, the caucus — with some GOP support — has advanced a handful of bills to tighten the state’s gun laws.

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One would require long gun sales to entail background checks, which current state law mandates only for handguns. Another would allow law enforcement or family to petition a judge to temporarily take away an individual’s firearms if it appears that person may harm themselves or others.

The latter bill is known as a “red flag” law and would create what are known as extreme risk protection orders. The concept received renewed attention in the wake of a mass shooting in Maine that was allegedly committed by a person who was known to law enforcement and experiencing severe mental health issues. Maine has what is known as a “yellow flag” law, which requires a medical diagnosis before a firearm can be taken away.

The state Senate, which Republicans control, has not considered either piece of legislation and likely won’t. In a statement, state Sen. Lisa Baker (R., Luzerne), chair of the chamber’s Judiciary Committee, said she has “no plans to advance the bills.”

In fall 2019, Baker’s committee held hearings on “Behavioral Health, Second Amendment Rights, and other Gun-Related Issues,” after which Baker said she solicited proposals that would be “constitutional, enforceable, and practical.” The proposals advanced by Democrats this year, she continued, do not meet that definition.

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“I believe the issue of helping individuals in crisis would be more appropriately addressed through a modernization of the mental health procedures law as it relates to gun rights to ensure those in need of treatment receive it and that due process is maintained,” Baker said in a statement.

Legislative Democrats and advocates from CeaseFirePA, which supports greater restrictions on guns, unveiled an installation in the Capitol on Monday that shows how many days, hours, minutes, and seconds have passed since the lower chamber advanced the background check and red flag bills.

“It’s been 175 days since the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed extreme risk protection orders and universal background check bills and too many Pennsylvanians have continued to die since then,” Adam Garber, executive director of the CeaseFirePA Education Fund, said at the Capitol news conference. “They didn’t have to if the Senate would follow the House’s lead today.”

Garber said statewide vigils on Dec. 8 will mark the 200th day without consideration.

Baker said that CeaseFirePA has the right to “advance its agenda” in any manner it chooses, “but no matter how clever or compelling a pressure campaign may be, that does not necessarily mean the preferred remedy is as easy or enforceable or effective as depicted.”

In 2021, 1,905 people died by gun in Pennsylvania, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A Franklin & Marshall poll released in October found that 58% of voters either strongly or somewhat favor creating more laws regulating gun ownership.

Spotlight PA logoSpotlight PA is an independent, nonpartisan, and nonprofit newsroom producing investigative and public-service journalism that holds the powerful to account and drives positive change in Pennsylvania.

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