A pair of gun safety bills intended to keep firearms out of the hands of children passed a state House panel on Tuesday over the objections of Republicans, who argued they would only punish law-abiding gun owners.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery) presented a version of the safe storage bill more narrowly tailored to apply to homes where children may be present. The law would require the owner of a gun who knows — or reasonably should know — that a minor could gain access to it to keep the gun locked up in a secure place.
Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin), who is the ranking Republican member of the Judiciary Committee, argued that the law would apply in only a small number of instances and that much of the gun violence the state is experiencing can be prosecuted using existing laws.
“I can support no further gun control and punitive measures against my law-abiding gun owners when laws are not being enforced, and yes I will go there, especially in the city in the first class,” Kauffman said, referring to GOP criticism of Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner’s policies.
Kauffman’s remark drew the ire of Rep. Chris Rabb (D-Philadelphia), who said he found it offensive and disingenuous to turn a discussion of gun violence to Philadelphia when rural America is facing a suicide epidemic that often involves guns.
“This doesn’t actually address any quote-unquote gun control. But it addresses a gray area where we discuss what is law abiding, and what is ethical because right now a parent could be deeply disengaged with a young person in their home and have no culpability,” Rabb said.
Recalling an incident in his district more than a decade ago in which a five-year-old accidentally shot his little brother, Briggs said his constituents and even a top law enforcement official expressed skepticism about the need for safe storage legislation.
“When I talk to firearm owners, they all say ‘We’re responsible firearm owners. We make sure our weapons are secure away from our children and we do the right thing.’ But if that was true, all of these incidents wouldn’t be happening,” Briggs said.
Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Franklin) said he does not believe that a prosecutor would bring charges against a parent who has lost a child in a gun accident.
“I believe that it is so draconian by imputing this kind of criminality on the part of a parent who has already suffered a great tragedy …” Schemel said. ”We only add tragedy to tragedy.”
Kauffman urged Republicans to vote “no,” saying that he recognizes different perspectives on how to protect children and that in communities like the ones he represents, protecting one’s family means being able to protect them from intruders who intend to do harm.
“Part of that self-defense is having a firearm available, accessible, and ready to go when there is a threat, and this bill, whether intentional or not, would inhibit that attempt to always be ready in defense of one’s person and one’s family,” Kauffman said.
The bills round out a package of gun safety legislation that the House Judiciary Committee sent to the floor earlier this year when the full chamber passed measures aimed at preventing gun suicides and requiring universal background checks to buy rifles and shotguns.
Although Democrats called the May 22 votes a win for gun safety, it also highlighted what caucus leaders have described as their “humble majority,” when state Rep. Frank Burns (D-Cambria) broke ranks and cast the vote to defeat a bill that would require gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons.
House Speaker Joanna McClinton then passed over a bill that would have required gun owners to securely store their weapons, leaving legislation that gun safety advocates have sought for years for another day.
The committee also considered legislation on Tuesday introduced by state Rep. Darisha Parker (D-Philadelphia) that would make parents who allow their minor children to have access to guns criminally and civilly liable for criminal or negligent acts that a child commits using a gun.
Both measures passed with party-line votes and will go to the House floor for consideration.
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