Wolf gets bills to protect selling guns during disasters

Patrick Connaghan, owner at 717 Armory in Harrisburg, Pa., attributes the shortage to supply and demand, stating that their sales grew roughly 1400% in roughly 60 days. (Kate Landis/WITF)

Patrick Connaghan, owner at 717 Armory in Harrisburg, Pa., attributes the shortage to supply and demand, stating that their sales grew roughly 1400% in roughly 60 days. (Kate Landis/WITF)

Legislation heading to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf repeals long-standing laws in Pennsylvania intended to control gun-carrying and prevent public officials from shutting down firearms dealers during disaster emergencies declared by a governor.

Both bills passed by identical 29-20 final votes in the Republican-controlled state Senate on Wednesday, with every Republican and the lone independent senator backing them and every Democrat against them. Both received approval from the state House of Representatives earlier this year.

Wolf, a Democrat, has not said whether he would sign or veto the bills. However, Wolf has vetoed more than a half-dozen bills passed by lawmakers that sought to limit his powers during the existing coronavirus disaster emergency and beyond.

2nd Amendment Rally attendees carry guns and signs on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg, Pa., on September 29, 2020. (Kate Landis/WITF)

One bill would repeal a provision that says “no person shall carry a firearm upon the public streets or upon any public property,” although people who have a concealed-carry license are exempt. If signed by Wolf, the bill might not change much; it has long been unenforced, lawmakers say.

However, the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Fayette, said the law could be used to limit people from open carrying a firearm, which is not generally prohibited in Pennsylvania.

The bill also would repeal a long-standing provision giving the governor the power to suspend or limit the sale of firearms during a disaster emergency. Governors can invoke a disaster emergency to bypass existing state laws and regulations to help respond to a disaster.

Patrick Connaghan, owner at 717 Armory in Harrisburg, Pa., leans on a nearly empty shelf of ammunition on Sept. 3, 2020. He said that ammunition and gun sales started surging on March 18, right after Gov. Tom Wolf declared a state of emergency. (Kate Landis/WITF)

The other bill is designed to prevent a governor or local government from shuttering businesses related to firearms and ammunition during a disaster emergency. Those include retailers, manufacturers, shooting ranges, clubs and hunting preserves.

Wolf imposed a state-at-home order and shuttered businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining” early in the pandemic. However, Wolf and his health secretary have consistently said they have no intention of implementing another broad-based shutdown.

In March, Wolf allowed gun shops to reopen on a limited basis during the coronavirus pandemic after several justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court urged him to do so. Under those provisions, firearms dealers were allowed to sell their wares by individual appointment during limited hours, as long as they complied with social-distancing guidelines.

Retailers and other businesses and establishments were allowed to reopen more broadly later in the spring.

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