Political split on proposed gun laws on full display
Gov. Wolf says committee chairman “blockading" effective proposals
The deep political divide in the Pennsylvania Legislature on potential gun laws was on full display Tuesday as House members traded criticisms and comebacks on a slew of proposals.
At one point during the House Judiciary Committee meeting, Republican Rep. Matthew Dowling of Fayette County described his support of a bill to repeal language in existing state law that Dowling said limited the Second Amendment rights of “law abiding citizens.”
Reacting to Dowling’s bill, Democrat Tim Briggs of Montgomery County said the only way it would be a solution was “if it is a zombie apocalypse.”
At least 11 bills were voted through the committee, most involving firearms and most on split votes that were largely party line. They now will be subject to action by the full House.
In a statement issued after the meeting, Gov. Tom Wolf vowed to veto one of the approved measures, crafted by Perry County Republican Rep. Mark Keller.
It was intended to deter municipalities from passing gunrelated ordinances that might be overturned in court.
A written description said it would work by making those who file successful lawsuits against such an ordinance entitled to reimbursement from the municipality.
In his statement, Wolf said the bill “empowers out-of-state special interest groups to sue and take taxpayer dollars from our communities simply for trying to make their neighborhoods safer.”
Wolf also said Republican Committee Chairman Rob Kauffman of Franklin County was “blockading” what Wolf described as practical and publicly accepted anti-gun violence measures.
Briggs voiced the same sentiment near the start of the meeting. He said, “We are ignoring a lot of bills that the public wants us to be tackling.”
The actions came after lawmakers returned to Harrisburg following a break of more than two months.
During that time, mass and individual shootings repeatedly got headlines.
They included the gun killings of 22 people in El Paso, Texas, on Aug. 3 and nine people in Dayton, Ohio, the following day.
At least five police officers were shot soon after that on a single day in Philadelphia, and Allentown has had a total of 33 people shot since June 1.
A three-bill package that passed the committee on Tuesday came from Republican Todd Stephens of Montgomery County.
Stephens described it as a “very limited and narrow” measure related to mandatory minimum sentences for gun-related crimes.
A written description of the bill said it contained constitutional procedures that state Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court found lacking several years ago when they struck down Pennsylvania mandatory-minimum laws.
Democrat Rep. Summer Lee of Allegheny County said mandatory minimums don’t work. Democrat Christopher Rabb of Philadelphia said the bill “actually destroys those communities that are already on the fringes,” and Democrat Mike Zabel of Delaware County said it was “bad policy.”
Stephens said the intent of his bill was to give every violent criminal who uses a gun fiveyear sentence.