Wolf cre­ates spe­cial coun­cil to curb gun vi­o­lence

Gov­er­nor calls on state law­mak­ers to ‘fix weak gun laws’

The Morning Call - - FRONT PAGE - By Ford Turner

HARRISBURG – As it fixes its “weak gun laws” and re­forms gov­ern­ment to make peo­ple safer, Penn­syl­va­nia must find mid­dle ground be­tween re­spect for the Sec­ond Amend­ment and re­spect for the right to live with­out fear of be­ing shot, Gov. Tom Wolf said Fri­day.

His words came two days af­ter a gun­man shot six po­lice of­fi­cers in Philadelph­ia and less than two weeks af­ter mass shoot­ings in Ohio and Texas killed 31 peo­ple.

Wolf spoke at a Capi­tol cer­e­mony where he called on leg­is­la­tors to pass gun vi­o­lence-curb­ing laws and signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der that cre­ated a new spe­cial coun­cil on gun vi­o­lence. The or­der also cre­ated two new, sim­i­larly fo­cused agen­cies, one within the state De­part­ment of Health and the other within the Penn­syl­va­nia Com­mis­sion on Crime and Delin­quency.

Law­mak­ers left the Capi­tol at the end of June for sum­mer break. The House is sched­uled to re­con­vene on Sept. 17, and the Se­nate on Sept. 23.

Wolf and others who spoke at the news con­fer­ence fo­cused heav­ily on Philadelph­ia, which the gov­er­nor vis­ited on Thurs­day fol­low­ing the po­lice shoot­ing.

State Rep. Jor­dan Har­ris, a Philadelph­ia Demo­crat, said there had been eight mass shoot­ings in his city this year. They of­ten in­volved hand guns, Har­ris said.

Speak­ing force­fully and cry­ing by the end of his com­ments, Har­ris said, “To all the moth­ers and fa­thers who had to bury their chil­dren, we see you.”

Wolf named Charles Ram­sey, chair of the Penn­syl­va­nia Com­mis­sion on Crime and Delin­quency, as the gov­er­nor’s spe­cial ad­viser on curb­ing gun vi­o­lence.

Ram­sey is to lead a new Of­fice of Gun Vi­o­lence Pre­ven­tion within PCCD. Sep­a­rately, a Di­vi­sion of Vi­o­lence Pre­ven­tion will be cre­ated within the De­part­ment of Health.

A spe­cial coun­cil on gun vi­o­lence, within the new PCCD of­fice, is to be­gin meet­ing within 60 days to start de­vel­op­ing a plan

to re­duce gun vi­o­lence in the state.

Among other mea­sures, the gov­er­nor’s or­der also es­tab­lished a “vi­o­lence data dash­board,” which Wolf com­pared to an ex­ist­ing, data-shar­ing web­site fo­cused on the opi­oid cri­sis. The or­der also con­tained lan­guage on new, cross-agency col­lab­o­ra­tions like a di­rec­tive that Penn­syl­va­nia State Po­lice and the Mu­nic­i­pal Po­lice Of­fi­cers Ed­u­ca­tion and Train­ing Com­mis­sion de­velop train­ing on com­mu­nity gun vi­o­lence pre­ven­tion.

Wolf and Demo­crat law­mak­ers called for the House and Se­nate to act on some of the dozens of gun vi­o­lence-re­lated bills ac­tive in the Leg­is­la­ture.

A spokesman for the ma­jor­ity-wield­ing House Repub­li­cans, Mike Straub, cited state po­lice sta­tis­tics to sup­port his con­tention that vi­o­lent firearms of­fenses in Penn­syl­va­nia have de­clined by nearly 40 per­cent since 2006.

“The sus­pect in the Philadelph­ia po­lice shoot­ing has a long his­tory of gun and vi­o­lent crimes. He is in vi­o­la­tion of sev­eral ex­ist­ing laws by pos­sess­ing a firearm and vi­o­lated dozens more when he opened fire,” Straub said in a writ­ten state­ment. “It proves once again that crim­i­nals will not fol­low changes we make to ex­ist­ing firearm laws.”

Wolf and Demo­crat law­mak­ers called for pas­sage of four types of gun vi­o­lence leg­is­la­tion: safe stor­age, the re­port­ing of lost or stolen guns, uni­ver­sal back­ground checks, and so-called “red flag” sit­u­a­tions in which judges would be al­lowed to tem­po­rar­ily re­voke the rights to buy or pos­sess guns of peo­ple deemed dan­ger­ous.

“All of the ac­tions I am tak­ing to­day strike a bal­ance be­tween free­dom and safety,” Wolf said.

Straub said the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee is weigh­ing next steps on some of the bills re­lat­ing to guns.

Jen­nifer Kocher, a spokes­woman for the Se­nate Repub­li­cans who con­trol that cham­ber, said in a writ­ten state­ment that many of the is­sues should be dealt with at the na­tional level. She pointed out that the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee al­ready has sched­uled pub­lic hear­ings for Septem­ber fo­cused on gun vi­o­lence.

“We un­der­stand that we can­not take ac­tion that will crim­i­nal­ize the mil­lions of Penn­syl­va­ni­ans who re­spon­si­bly and legally own firearms,” Kocher said.

Speak­ing at the news con­fer­ence, Sen. An­thony Wil­liams, a Demo­crat who rep­re­sents parts of Philadelph­ia and Delaware coun­ties, said he be­lieved 75% of the pub­lic was be­hind vi­o­lence-curb­ing mea­sures like “red flag” laws.

Ram­sey, who spoke im­me­di­ately af­ter Wolf, said he had been in law en­force­ment for 47 years.

He ac­knowl­edged the dis­turb­ing na­ture of po­lice shoot­ings in Philadelph­ia, but he noted he had been to scenes where chil­dren were ac­ci­den­tally shot.

The child takes hold of a gun, he said, “ac­ci­den­tally pulls a trig­ger and shoots a sib­ling or shoots them­selves.”

Ram­sey said Penn­syl­va­nia had to act be­cause he did not ex­pect fed­eral ac­tion on gun vi­o­lence any time soon.

Penn­syl­va­nia’s fed­eral law­mak­ers have been call­ing for changes to na­tional gun poli­cies in the wake of the shoot­ings in Texas and Ohio.

Repub­li­can U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey has re­vived his pro­posal to strengthen gun back­ground checks, which had failed to ad­vance in the Se­nate in 2013 and 2015. Toomey’s of­fice has met in re­cent days with White House of­fi­cials to talk about that back­ground check bill. He’s also called for con­sid­er­a­tion of a fed­eral red flag law.

Democrats, in­clud­ing U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and Le­high Val­ley U.S. Rep. Su­san Wild, have urged the Se­nate to re­turn from re­cess to ap­prove a back­ground check bill that al­ready cleared the House. That bill is broader than Toomey’s ver­sion.

In Harrisburg on Fri­day, Wolf said his or­der used the au­thor­ity he had as the state’s ex­ec­u­tive leader.

He said, “This is what I can do, but we still need the Leg­is­la­ture to act.”

Wolf

JOE HERMITT/AP

Pa. Gov. Tom Wolf signs ex­ec­u­tive or­der to re­duce gun vi­o­lence dur­ing a cer­e­mony at the state Capi­tol on Fri­day in Harrisburg. Watch­ing, from left, Se­nate Demo­cratic Leader Jay Costa, Al­legheny County, Sen. Tony Wil­liams, D-Philadelph­ia, Rep. Jor­dan Har­ris, D-Philadelph­ia, Shira Good­man, CeaseFire Pa., Rep. Movita John­son-Har­rell, D-Philadelph­ia, Patty Kim, D-Dauphin County, Rep. Joanna McClin­ton, D-Philadelph­ia and Rep. Mau­reen Mad­den, D-Mon­roe County.

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