Pa. budget adds money for gun violence prevention programs; bigger reforms are left undone

More substantive initiatives, such as an assault weapons ban, red flag law remain in committee

By: - July 12, 2022 11:15 am

A protester holds a sign calling for action on gun violence during a meeting of the Pa. House Judiciary Committee on Monday June 13, 2022 (Capital-Star photo).

Pennsylvania’s newly approved state budget raises funding for gun violence prevention initiatives, but Pennsylvania lawmakers have failed to act on any preventative legislation to address the growing gun violence crisis the past few months.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf signed the $45.2 billion state budget, with a possible $2.2 billion in additional federal relief funds, into law on Friday, eight days past the June 30 deadline. 

The following gun violence-related funds were all included in the bill package. 

  • $50 million for the Gun Violence Intervention and Prevention program. These dollars will provide grants for municipalities, counties, district attorneys, higher education institutions and local law enforcement agencies to further investigate and prosecute firearm-related crimes. 
  • $100 million for adult mental health issues statewide. The Behavioral Health Commission, formed by this bill, will decide the details on how the money is to be used. 
  • $100 million to increase School Safety Grant funds. This money will be administered by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency based on their eligibility requirements
  • *$135 million is allocated to police departments for new equipment and for hiring and retaining officers.
  • *$105 million is to be spent on violence prevention, public safety and safer communities. 

An administration spokesperson told the Capital-Star that the latter two programs are brand new, and more details on what the funds can be used for will be published once they are finalized. 

An average of roughly 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.

Roughly 62 percent — or just over 1,000 — of those deaths are suicides, while 35 percent — or over 550 — are homicides, the report concluded. 

Philadelphia, in particular, is known for having a gun violence crisis in the state. A recent mass shooting in the city left three people dead and 11 injured. 

There have been nearly 300 homicides in Philadelphia in 2022 alone, according City Controller Rebecca Rhynart’s office. 

Josh Fleitman, the western Pennsylvania manager for the anti-gun violence group CeaseFire PA, said that, despite Philadelphia’s figures, he is happy that lawmakers chose to address the issue statewide. 

“Philadelphia can be a popular punching bag, and obviously Philadelphia has a major issue with gun violence, but it’s so much broader than that,” Fleitman said. “We’re seeing some of the shootings in the city start to bleed out into the more suburban areas.” 

Fleitman said many often overlook that suicides account for roughly two-thirds of gun deaths every year and funding for prosecutors overlooks the majority of gun violence. 

“You know, for 30, 40, 50 years, we’ve tried to arrest our way out of gun violence, and it just has not worked,” he said. “And so we need these more proactive solutions, which is what we’re happy to see funding for.” 

Fleitman said that preventative bills — such as red flag laws, which give judges the ability to order the removal of firearms from someone they deem a risk to themselves or others, waiting periods for gun purchases, and safe storage laws — are what the state needs to address gun violence. 

A number of those measures have been introduced in the state Legislature but have been stranded in committees or voted down by majority-holding Republicans, despite popular opinion to pass these types of laws.  

Third Way, a self-referred “center-left” national think-tank, partnered with Republican polling firm GS Strategy Group, and found in a June poll that 80 percent of Pennsylvania voters support red flag laws. 

They also found that about 89 percent of state voters support requiring background checks for all gun purchases, 82 percent support providing access to juvenile records for background checks and 79 percent support raising the purchase age for semi automatic weapons to 21. 

State Rep. Peter Schweyer, D-Lehigh, tried to ban people younger than 21 years old from buying or owning assault weapons, but the bill was gutted by the House Judiciary Committee last month. 

Many other bills have either met similar fates or been ignored outright, as reported by Spotlight PA

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, declined to comment on the pieces of legislation stuck in his committee.

State Rep. Darisha Parker, D-Philadelphia, is still hopeful she can pass a bill that would raise the minimum age to purchase and own a firearm to 21 years old. Right now she is trying to gather support through a co-sponsor memo

“All we can do is continue to introduce bills that will help to keep folks safe and that will curb the rising tide of gun violence in our communities,” Parker said in a statement. “I implore our colleagues on the other side of the aisle to consider these types of commonsense measures so that we can see a light at the end of the tunnel on gun violence near our homes and in our neighborhoods. It’s time to pass bills that will make a difference, not to turn a blind eye.” 

Jaxon White is a summer intern for the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association. Follow him on Twitter @Jaxon__White.

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Jaxon White
Jaxon White

Jaxon White is a summer intern for the Pennsylvania Legislative Correspondents Association, and a student at Bucknell University, where is editor of the campus newspaper.