In Harrisburg and D.C., fresh pushes to reduce gun violence. Will they work? | Tuesday Morning Coffee

March 16, 2021 7:11 am

Good Tuesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

How can you tell when lawmakers are starting to look past the pandemic and are training their sights on other vexing public policy issues? One good answer: When you start to see movement in Harrisburg and Washington D.C. on legislation aimed at reducing the plague of gun violence.

As I noted in this space a couple of weeks ago, while it’s been pushed off the front pages, gun violence remained an ever-present problem during the COVID-19 pandemic. Philadelphia logged 499 homicides last year, the victims overwhelmingly Black and Brown, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer. In the first 79 days of 2021, the city already already had seen 59 homicides, one advocate told the Capital-Star.

So it’s against this backdrop that lawmakers on Capitol Hill and under the dome on Third Street are starting to introduce legislation tackling the issue from two, very different directions.

We’ll start, after the jump, with Washington D.C.

Sen. Pat Toomey. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

Last week, U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, a Lehigh Valley Republican who’s retiring in 2022, announced that he’d joined with U.S. Sens. John Cornyn, R-Texas, as well as frequent foil, Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., to reintrodice a bill tightening federal reporting requirements on firearms purchases.

The legislation, known as the NICS Denial Notification Act, would “require federal authorities to alert state and local law enforcement within 24 hours when an ineligible individual tries to purchase a firearm and fails a background check, which can be a warning sign of future criminal behavior,” the lawmakers said in a joint statement.

“When a convicted felon lies about his criminal record while attempting to purchase a gun, he is committing a new felony. This happens regularly in America, and is a crime that largely goes unprosecuted,” Toomey said in a statement. “The NICS Denial Notification Act makes progress on gun safety while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners, and will help make our communities safer by better enforcing existing gun laws and responding to warning signs of criminal behavior.”

The lawmakers rolled out the bill even as the U.S. House passed two bills strengthening background checks on firearms sale, closing a loophole that allowed avowed white supremacist Dylann Roof to murder nine Black churchgoers in Charleston, S.C. in 2015, the Post-Gazette reported last week.

Toomey has stood almost alone among Republican lawmakers on gun violence reduction measures. He and Manchin have partnered in the past on an expanded background checks bill. But the legislation never garnered enough support to overcome the flibuster.

In a statement, U.S. Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, who’s also sponsoring the bill, called the reintroduced legislation “one commonsense step in the effort to prevent” gun crime.

“Ensuring that federal and state law enforcement work together to stop those who are prohibited from buying a gun from getting one will help make our neighborhoods safer. This is exactly the sort of bipartisan step Congress should be able to support,” Coons said.

A display of ‘ghost guns’ displayed by Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office during a Capitol news conference on Monday, 12/16/19 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

In Harrisburg, meanwhile, two Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate said they’ve reintroduced two pieces of legislation aimed at clamping down at so-called “ghost guns,” or 3-D printed firearms that are undetectable and untraceable.

The bills would amend the definition of a “firearm” in state law to include the weapons, also known as 80 percent receivers. Another bill would forbid anyone from 3D printing such a weapon unless they have a firearm manufacturing license from the federal government.

Selling and buying the receivers, which can be done without a background check, is not illegal. But it is illegal for someone who can’t own a gun to assemble it into a fully functioning firearm, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“The increase in untraceable firearms and ghost guns is a major threat to public safety,” Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, said in a statement released by his office. “Gun violence is a public health crisis we absolutely can be doing more to address in the Legislature.”

The bill comes even as state Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office announced Monday that it had reached an agreement with Pennsylvania’s largest gun show promoter, Eagle Arms Productions, to halt the sale of the weapons at its gun shows.

The agreement comes as the number of ghost guns recovered in Philadelphia skyrocketed by 152 percent from 2019-20. and with 10,000 recovered nationally in 2019 alone, Shapiro’s office said.

“Ghost guns are quickly becoming the weapon of choice for criminals and fueling the gun violence epidemic. These DIY gun kits should be subject to the same background checks and qualifications as fully functioning firearms to prevent criminals who are not legally able to purchase or possess guns from getting their hands on these deadly, untraceable weapons. We are calling on all gun show promoters to contact my office and follow suit to help keep our neighborhoods safe until criminals can’t buy these weapons,” Shapiro said in a statement.

According to Hughes, who’s partnering with Sen. Wayne Fontana, D-Allegheny on the ghost gun bills, a number of states, including Pennsylvania, have filed lawsuits over federal rules on 3D-printed guns because of the public safety threat they pose.

“The growing trend of ghost guns being used in violent crimes is troubling for safety across the commonwealth,” Fontana said. “Without action, we run the risk of allowing anyone with the necessary means having the ability to build a gun on-demand, with no background check, or without going through a licensed gun dealer. That places an extremely heavy burden on our law enforcement officers and our communities. We must address gun violence as a whole and we must do our part to ensure these weapons do not get into the wrong hands.”

The Legislature doesn’t have the best record on gun reform. Ghost guns seem like an easy get. We’ll see if common sense prevails.

John L. Micek | Editor

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
The state House and Senate are moving toward a vote on an emergency amendment that could give sexual abuse survivors the long-sought right to sue in civil court. Can they find the votes to pull it off? Stephen Caruso and Elizabeth Hardison lay out the challenges facing the legislation.

Gov. Tom Wolf has given Pa. restaurants, bars, and gyms the green light to reopen at 75 percent capacity starting April 4, Cassie Miller reports.

PennDOT’s road-widening projects are under increased scrutiny amid the debate over how the agency will pay for billions of dollars worth of road and bridge repairs, our partners at Pittsburgh City Paper report.

The U.S. Senate has confirmed U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., as the nation’s first Native American Interior SecretaryWashington Bureau Chief Jane Norman reports.

On our Commentary Page this morning, opinion regular Mike Connolly points out what deficit hawks, such as U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, wrong about the new COVID relief bill. And a University of South Carolina expert explains what Alexander Hamilton’s deep connections to slavery reveal about the need for reparations today.

A Berks County school system employee gets the COVID-19 vaccine on Monday, 3/15/21 (Commonwealth Media Services screen capture)

Officials in the Philadelphia suburbs say they won’t be able to vaccinate everyone by May 1 without more vaccine, the Inquirer reports.
Southwestern Pennsylvania has seen a significant increase in food insecurity during the pandemic, the Post-Gazette reports.
Business leaders say the Wolf administration’s latest rule changes aren’t enough for the recoveryPennLive reports.
LancasterOnline asked readers to reflect on our pandemic year.
The Lehigh Valley IronPigs, a minor league baseball team, have announced their crowd plan for the 2021 season, the Morning Call reports.
The Citizens’ Voice talks to local restaurant and bar owners about the Wolf administration easing its restrictions.
The York Daily Record explains how grassroots groups can help you find the vaccine.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

Philly school officials are giving parents another chance to opt-in for in-person learningWHYY-FM reports.
A State College smoothie shop owner has been charged in the death of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, WHYY-FM also reports.
Erie County has reported its lowest COVID-19 caseload in five months, GoErie reports.
With less than a month to go before the tax deadline, preparers are scrambling to adjust to language in the COVID-19 stimulus bill that allows some unemployment compensation to be excluded from federal taxes, the Observer-Reporter reports. talks to frontline workers who are haunted by the pandemic.
Corporate PAC donations to candidates and committees have plunged after the Capitol riot, Roll Call reports.
voters have found a new home online. It’s about as awful as you’d think, Politico reports.

What Goes On.
The House comes in at 11 a.m., the Senate reconvenes at 1 p.m. Here’s today’s committee schedule.
In the Senate:
10:30 a.m, Senate Chamber: Game & Fisheries Committee
11 a.m, Senate Chamber: Aging & Youth Committee
12 p.m., Senate Chamber: Community, Economic & Recreational Development Committee
In the House:
9:15 a.m, G50 Irvis: 
Veterans Affairs & Emergency Preparedness Committee
10 a.m, 140 Main Capitol: Consumer Affairs Committee
10 a.m., 515 Irvis: Transportation Committee
10:30 a..m, G50 Irvis: Liquor Control Committee
Call of the Chair: Appropriations Committee
Call of the Chair: Environmental Resources & Energy Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
7:30 a.m: 
Breakfast for Rep. Bud Cook
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Sen. Maria Collett
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Sen. Jay Costa
8 a.m.: 
Virtual breakfast for Rep. Mary Jo Daley
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Sen. Dave Argall
8 a.m.: 
Breakfast for Rep. Brandon Markosek
11:30 a.m.: 
Luncheon for Sen. Scott Martin
5:30 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Stan Saylor
6 p.m.: Reception for Sen. Jake Corman

Ride the circuit and give at the max today, and you’re out an absolutely appalling $26,000 today.

Dept. of Political Advertising.
With President Joe Biden headed for Delaware County this afternoon to tout the benefits of the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 rescue package, the Democratic National Committee is out with a new ad that … what else? — touts Biden touting the COVID-19 rescue bill. We’d like to cover it, but local media hasn’t been invited, nor have we been told where the president is going to be. We’re going to do our best to bring you the details anyway.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a song for the times. It’s ‘Holding Pattern’ by The Allah-La’s. Which is what we’ve all been in these last months. Here’s hoping we’re really, truly, and finally rounding the bend.

Tuesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin scored his 717th goal on Monday night
, tying the great Phil Esposito. The Caps rolled over the flailing Buffalo Sabres 6-0 on Monday.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek
John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.