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There was no mistaking the anger in President Joe Biden’s voice on Thanksgiving Day as he once again decried America’s fatal love affair with guns.
“The idea we still allow semi-automatic weapons to be purchased is sick. Just sick,” Biden said, according to the Associated Press.
In the wake of deadly shootings in Colorado, Virginia, Philadelphia, and North Carolina in the days leading up to, and just after, Thanksgiving, Biden and other pols spoke anew of cracking down on the semiautomatic weapons that can fire up to 30 rounds without reloading (By comparison, most New York City Police officers carry semi-automatic handguns that can fire up to 15 rounds without reloading, according to the AP).
“Four Pennsylvania students were just shot on their way home for Thanksgiving break,” Wolf tweeted in the wake of a drive-by shooting outside a Philadelphia high school last week. Four students were wounded shortly after being dismissed early for the holiday, NBC News and other outlets reported.
“We live in a country where our children can’t walk home from school. Our neighbors can’t go to the grocery store. Our friends can’t gather without bloodshed,” the Democratic governor, who will leave office in January, continued.
“Recent shootings across the U.S. have left empty seats at the Thanksgiving dinner table. We need more commonsense gun laws,” Wolf concluded, noting that gun safety legislation passed by Congress, and signed by Biden earlier this year, was a good start.
But, he added, “we need Pennsylvania’s General Assembly to act now.”
Given the opportunity to act on commonsense gun laws, including an assault weapons ban and a ‘red flag’ law statute aimed at preventing violence before it happens, Republicans in the General Assembly buried the bills in committee earlier this year.
Lawmakers did approve, and Wolf signed, money in this year’s state budget for a raft of gun violence prevention initiatives, but none move to reduce the ease of access to weapons.
This year’s legislative session ends on Wednesday. The bills buried in committee will die, and will need to be reintroduced anew when the new legislative session begins in January. The math remains just as daunting.
Democrats are expected to take control of the state House in January. But their narrow majority, complicated by vacancies prompted by resignations and one death, will make it difficult — but not impossible — to pass bills without cooperation from the chamber’s Republicans.
That means it is theoretically possible for Democrats to pass gun violence reduction bills on a party-line vote. But they will run into a brick wall in the state Senate, which remains squarely in Republican hands.
One variable: Democratic Gov.-elect Josh Shapiro, a deal-maker who remains fluent in legislativese from his tenure in the state House, could bridge the gap between the two chambers. But the odds remain long.
On the campaign trail, Shapiro spoke of increased mental health services for students, strengthening background checks, and enacting a red flag statute, according to NBC-10 in Philadelphia.
“I refuse to accept a reality where our children have to fear for their lives every time they go into the classroom. Every Pennsylvanian deserves to feel safe at home, at school, and in their community – and I know we can achieve that while upholding Pennsylvanians’ rights and traditions,” Shapiro said, leaving just enough wiggle room for the possibility (however slender) for bipartisan agreement.
An average of 1,628 people die every year by guns in Pennsylvania, according to a report by Everytown For Gun Safety, a nonprofit working to raise awareness about gun violence across the country. This was a 15 percent increase from 2010 to 2019 and ranks Pennsylvania number 27 for the highest rate of gun violence in the country.
While Republicans at the state and national level have resisted tougher gun laws, some law enforcement officials have called for such reforms, arguing that they only make sense.
“This isn’t a one-and-done,” Los Angeles Police Chief Mike Moore told the AP, referring to this month’s shooting Colorado. “These things are evolving all the time, in other cities, at any moment another incident happens. It’s crying out for the federal government, for our legislators, to go out and make this change,” he said.
The odds of additional congressional action on guns, especially after the gun safety bill signed into law earlier this year, also seem daunting — but not impossible. Republicans will go into the New Year with a narrow majority. Democrats only would have to nab the votes of five Republicans to send a bill to the U.S. Senate, which will have a strengthened Democratic majority.
Such was the case in June when the House approved a gun violence reduction bill that would have, among other things, prohibit the sale or transfer of semiautomatic firearms to anyone aged 21 and younger, according to the Bucks County Courier-Times.
Democrats would still, however, have to overcome the chamber’s 60-vote threshold, which would require the votes of some Republicans, who remain opposed, the AP noted.
“I’d rather not try to define a whole group of guns as being no longer available to the American public,” U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D, a gun owner and hunter, told the AP. “For those of us who have grown up with guns as part of our culture, and we use them as tools — there’s millions of us, there’s hundreds of millions of us — that use them lawfully.”
While it has softened some, public opinion remains on the side of stricter guns laws.
According to Gallup data released earlier this month, 57 percent of Americans want stricter U.S. gun laws, down from 66 percent in June. Support remains strongest among Democrats (86 percent) followed by independents (60 percent) and Republicans (27 percent). A stable 46 percent of U.S. adults say there is a gun in their household, according to Gallup.
Gun safety advocates, meanwhile, remain undaunted, and are committed to keeping the pressure on lawmakers, especially in the wake of electoral wins that sent some of their number to Washington.
“With some votes still being counted, the tally of [our] volunteers who won election for office up and down the ballot across the US this week stands at 125, highlighting the political power of our volunteers as candidates for office,” Shannon Watts, the founder of the advocacy group, Moms Demand Action, tweeted on Nov. 12.
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