‘Symbolic steps on guns don’t save lives’: Top Senate Republican says she’ll hold hearings on gun safety measures

August 7, 2019 7:07 am

Pennsylvania Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne (Photo via Facebook)

(*This post has been updated)

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

A key legislative voice on gun-control is speaking out this Wednesday morning, and it voice belongs to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, whose word not only matters because her panel has a big say on any new gun legislation, it also matters because of who she is.

Baker’s is one of the more deliberative in the Senate GOP caucus. If you remember her moving floor speech a few years back on a bill that would have restricted access to abortion, then you know what we’re talking about here. She’s also emerged as a thoughtful voice on criminal justice reform.

So with calls mounting for a special session on gun violence, and with Gov. Tom Wolf set to hold a major event later this Wednesday afternoon on gun violence, the timing of Baker’s decision to speak up  is the first real signal of what a future debate might look like.

“The Senate Judiciary Committee will be holding a series of public hearings intended as a prelude to action.  Advocates and opponents will have the chance to make their respective cases in full spotlight and answer the hard questions about their positions,” *Baker said in a statement Tuesday.

Orange-clad advocates rally in the Capitol Rotunda during a Gun Violence Awareness Day event (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

And these are the lines you need to remember from the back half of Baker’s tightly crafted statement:

“While every citizen feels urgency about action, the choices we make must be applicable across the state.  A patchwork of local ordinances will prove more troublesome for law-abiding citizens than it will any impediment to individuals determined to act out on their rage,” Baker’s statement reads in part.

She continues:

“In looking at new requirements or restrictions, we also must evaluate how recent steps have been implemented and whether they are making a measurable difference. Taking symbolic steps sends a message, but it ultimately does not save lives. Something unworkable or unenforceable or unable to withstand a legal challenge does not provide the real protection our constituents are demanding.”

So that’s definitely not, “Yes, let’s do something.” But, more importantly, it also isn’t “No, let’s not do anything at all,” which suggests there might be some negotiable middle ground, like legislation authorizing so-called extreme risk protection orders that could keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them.

It might also suggest that there’s room for expanded background checks. Both are measures that have been embraced by Republicans, including U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa.

Let’s take a look at the front half of Baker’s statement, as well.

(Josh Locatis/Flickr)

“The rising and devastating toll from mass shootings obligates officials at every level to determine potentially effective remedies.  That means not only examining what can be constitutionally accomplished in respect to weapons and ammunition, but the dire need to upgrade mental health services and to confront the climate of hate and bias that encourages supremacists and others to act in violent and destructive ways,” Baker said.

And here’s another key takeaway:

“The notion that state leaders have been blind and dumb to community concern and outcry is misplaced,” Baker continued. “A variety of bills have passed in the last year, more have been introduced, and other substantive pieces are close.  We recognize as well that there are sharply conflicting perspectives between the regions of Pennsylvania and within communities themselves on various approaches.  Our challenge and responsibility is to forge a consensus on any potential changes to current laws, regulations, and funding.”

Pennsylvania’s first substantive gun control bill, one requiring convicted domestic abusers to more quickly surrender their weapons, went on the books earlier this year.

And for Pennsylvania, that’s actual progress. But it’s also true that other gun-control measures have withered on the vine and died. And the Republican majorities in the House and Senate, joined by some conservative Democrats, own that failure.

Again, Baker’s statement is a long way from yes. The bigger question is whose voice will ultimately win the day.

Past history, we admit, isn’t encouraging. But this is a political season, and the Senate GOP is clinging to its majority by its fingernails. And there’s nothing like the instinct for  self-preservation to move hearts and minds and votes.

And hearings are an important first step.

Join us, won’t you?

Our Stuff.
Sarah Anne Hughes
 and Stephen Caruso take a closer look at efforts to pass a ‘Red Flag’ law in Pennsylvania.

On our Commentary Page, state Sen. Wayne D. Fontana, D-Alleghenytouts a new student loan program aimed at making college more affordable for Pa. students. Opinion regular Mark O’Keefe wonders what lawmakers will do about skyrocketing Turnpike tolls. And no, violent video games don’t have a thing to do with mass shootings, so please stop saying that, a Stetson University scholar argues.


The Inquirer
 explains how a ‘looming’ voting rights fight could shift political power away from Philadelphia and other diverse cities toward whiter, more Republican suburbs.
Pittsburgh City Paper’s Ryan Deto talks to Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Alleghenyabout the renewed push for expanded background checks for gun purchases.
PennLive looks at a pair of ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban bills now making the rounds of the General Assembly.
The Tribune-Review explains how Census-takers are trying to get to ‘hard to reach’ populations in western Pennsylvania.
Police in Bethlehem have increased their presence at this month’s Musikfest festival in response to mass shootings, the Morning Call reports.

Here’s your #Philadelphia Instagram of the Day:

Comcast doled out $1 million to pay for ‘media literacy’ workshops in Philadelphia last year, BillyPenn reports, as part of a larger education effort.
WHYY-FM tells the story of a Pa. ICE detainee who halted her own deportation with a phone call.
Pa. educators got some safety advice from the Secret Service on Tuesday, the PA Post reports.
The Trump White House wants to spike an Obama-era rule making sure there are enough doctors for Medicaid patients, sparking fears of a shortage, reports.
A pro-Trump conservative and former cop has jumped into the race for NePa’s 8th Congressional DistrictPoliticsPa reports.
The Trump administration has ‘quietly used’ regulatory actions to expand access to guns, Politico reports.
The Trump campaign has accused U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texasof endangering donors by publicizing their names and employersRoll Callreports.

What Goes On.
1:30 p.m., Media Center: Reps. Kevin Boyle, Danielle Friel-Otten 
andMalcolm Kenyatta, and others, hold a newser reiterating their call for a special session on gun violence.

5:15 p.m., Main Rotunda:
 Gov. Tom WolfU.S. Sen. Bob Casey and pro-gun control groups gather to honor the victims of gun violence — and to call for expanded background checks and other measures.

Heavy Rotation.
It’s always a good day when there’s new music from Elbow in the world. From their upcoming LP ‘Giants of All Sizes,’  here’s ‘Dexter & Sinister.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Baseball Link.
dropped another one to New York on Tuesday night, losing 9-4.Ugh.

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.