As the U.S. reels from more mass shootings, a renewed push for reform on Capitol Hill 

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District, is among the backers of the effort

By: - February 16, 2023 9:01 am

Michigan State University(Photo by Susan J. Demas for the Michigan Advance).

A Republican lawmaker from suburban Philadelphia has joined with his Democratic colleagues in the U.S. House on a package of gun violence-reduction legislation that comes even as the nation reels from a mass shooting at Michigan State University.

“Gun violence is a public health emergency that takes the lives of far too many Americans every day,” U.S. Rep. Dan Goldman, D-N.Y., told the Capital-Star. 

A former federal prosecutor who served as lead counsel for the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump, Goldman is supporting efforts to reinstate the federal ban on assault weapons, expand background checks, and create new federal standards for safe gun storage.

He’s being joined on the bills by colleagues across the country, including U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District. 

The Bucks County lawmaker is a cosponsor, along with U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., on the background checks bill, which would require such checks for every firearms sale.

Our communities will be safer with the expansion of background checks for firearm sales under this bill,” Fitzpatrick said. “Background checks are a simple preventive measure that are proven to help our law enforcement keep guns out of the hands of criminals. This bipartisan legislation will prevent felons, domestic abusers, and dangerously mentally ill citizens from obtaining a firearm, while protecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans. I’m proud to support these common-sense reforms.”

Adam Garber, executive director of the Philadelphia-based gun violence reduction group CeaseFirePA, told the Capital-Star that he’s, “glad to see bipartisan cooperation on sponsorship for legislation Pennsylvanians want.”

The proposed legislation “represents three significant steps to save the lives of people everywhere and here in Pennsylvania,” Garber said. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1,905 Pennsylvanians lost their lives due to gun violence in 2021. Numbers for 2022 were not yet available. .

Assault Weapons Ban

Goldman is cosponsoring the assault weapons ban with U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I. If approved, it would prohibit the sale, transfer, manufacture, and importation of semiautomatic weapons and ammunition-feeding devices capable of accepting more than fifteen rounds, while protecting hunting and sporting rifles and assault weapons used by members of the military and law enforcement.

The United States banned assault weapons for a decade, from 1994 to 2004. If such a ban were still in place, it would “have prohibited the weapons used in eight of the 10 deadliest mass shootings in recent American history,” Goldman said. Background information provided by Goldman indicates that in mass shootings “six times as many people are shot when an assault weapon is used.”

Our communities will be safer with the expansion of background checks for firearm sales under this bill.

– U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-1st District

There were 648 mass shootings nationwide in 2022, and 44,306 people died from gun violence overall, according to data released this month by the Gun Violence Archive. The archive defines mass shootings as an incident in which four or more individuals were killed or injured.

Goldman pointed to three such incidents to buttress his arguments:

  • The May 14, 2022 shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., where a gunman used a lawfully purchased assault weapon to murder 10 people at a grocery store
  • The May 24, 2022 shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman used a legally purchased assault rifle to enter a school and kill 19 children and two teachers.
  • The Nov. 19, 2022 shooting in Colorado Springs, Colo., where a gunman opened fire with an assault rifle inside an LGBTQ nightclub, murdering five people.

“These massacres make up only a tiny fraction of lives lost to assault rifles,” Goldman said, noting that the weapons used in the three examples would not have been permitted to be legally purchased had the Assault Weapons Ban been law. 

“These weapons were designed for the military specifically to kill as many people as possible in as little time as possible. They are weapons of war and have no place in our communities,” Goldman stressed. “

No one goes hunting with an AR-15 rifle. That gun is not included in our basic First Amendment right,” Goldman said.

Goldman said his proposed legislation “improves upon the previous assault weapons ban and existing state bans by prohibiting duplicates or altered facsimiles with semiautomatic capabilities and prohibiting the importation of assault weapons and large-capacity magazines.”

The previous 10-year ban was passed by Congress in 1994 and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. The ban applied only to weapons manufactured after the date of the ban’s enactment and expired in 2004.

Eight of the ten deadliest mass shootings in recent American history have involved an assault weapon that would have been banned for purchase under the previous Assault Weapons Ban. “We need to get back on track and protect our communities,” Goldman said. According to a 2021 Data for Progress poll, 61 percent of Americans support banning the manufacture, sale, and possession of assault rifles.

Bipartisan Background Checks Act

The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2023 “is a commonsense piece of legislation supported by more than 90 percent of both Democrats and Republicans in America,” Goldman said, “that would require that every sale of a firearm include a background check.”

Ethan’s Law 

Ethan’s Law is named in honor of Ethan Song, a teenager from Guilford, Conn.,  who was tragically killed in 2018 by an unsecured gun in a neighbor’s home.

Information provided by Goldman’s office indicates that “loaded and unlocked guns are in the homes of an estimated 4.6 million American minors, and killing or injuring eight children or teens every day.” Goldman notes that “unsupervised firearms are often used in suicides, school shootings, and other acts of violence.”

If passed, the bill would create federal requirements for safe gun storage and establish strong penalties for any violations.

Gun owners would be required to place their firearms in a “secure gun storage or safety device” if a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without permission, or if a resident of the dwelling cannot legally possess a firearm under existing law. 

The bill also includes incentives for states to pass and enforce their own safe gun storage laws. Twenty-four states already have some form of safe storage or child access prevention laws already on the books.  

The bill, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., is also endorsed by over 180 gun violence prevention and law enforcement advocacy groups, including the Newtown Action Alliance, Giffords, Everytown for Gun Safety, Brady: United Against Gun Violence, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, Sandy Hook Promise, and March for Our Lives.

“It’s long past the time for additional reforms, “ Goldman told the Capital-Star. “It’s important to note that this is not a Second Amendment issue. No one wants to take away an individual’s right to own a gun.”

As the debate over gun violence reform takes shape in the Congress, Goldman called for ‘context’ in how legislators approach reform, meaning sponsors and supporters must “explain exactly what these reforms mean and don’t mean. Our goal here is to keep communities safe.”

“Certainly, protecting yourself at home and your property is an important right. I’m not interested in taking that basic right away in any measure.” 

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Frank Pizzoli
Frank Pizzoli

Frank Pizzoli, the former editor and publisher of the Central Voice, writes about the issues that matter to Pennsylvania's LGBTQ residents.