Pa. made progress on gun control in 2018. Here’s what has to happen next | Sean P. Quinlan

February 4, 2019 6:30 am

It’s in the single digits outside right now. but we all know it will warm up soon. And when it does, it will mark the rebirth, the reawakening of all manner of plant an animal species.

Warmer temperatures bring brighter spirits and new beginnings.

Here in Pennsylvania however, the coming season holds peril as well. For parents like myself, we brace ourselves and hope we make it to summer without the school being shot up by a madman or a fellow student that took their parents’ gun to school. That’s what we do now in the United States, apparently. We do nothing and wait. We wait for the next mass shooting.

We wait for the next school shooting. We’re waiting for it right now.

Congress has enacted exactly zero new gun laws since the deadly 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

Since then, there have been at least 200 more school shootings with at least 400 more innocents killed. According to the CDC, 2017 was the deadliest for gun violence in 40 years. We’re averaging another school shooting every 63 hours and a mass shooting every 24 hours. It turns out doing nothing hasn’t worked.

The question presents itself then: Do we continue to wait or is it time to do something?

If doing nothing isn’t acceptable any longer, what then shall we do? What do we recommend to our newly sworn in governor and state legislature? Perhaps we should look to peer states for guidance. States like New York, Hawaii and Massachusetts, for example, have gun death rates much lower than ours. What do they do that we don’t?

Here’s what we don’t do. Among other things, we don’t require a background check on the private sale of a long gun, including AR-15’s and AK-47’s.

We don’t have extreme risk protection orders to allow law enforcement to remove guns from the demonstrably addicted, mentally ill or violent. We don’t have child access prevention laws to keep children safe in the home or to keep them from bringing guns to school.

These are the types of laws enacted in neighboring states like Maryland, New York and New Jersey that passed constitutional muster and reduced gun deaths. And while many enjoy Pennsylvania’s position as the backward, anything goes, “wild west of the east” status. Perhaps it’s time to aspire to do better. At least for our children’s sake.

For their sake then, let’s consider each in turn.

First, universal background checks. Gov. Tom Wolf renewed his call for these last week. Every gun sale, every time. For absolutely no good reason, we do it for pistols but not for long guns. It makes no sense. The logistical apparatus is already set up. It polls incredibly well and will undoubtedly save lives. Honestly, it’s legislative negligence that we do not have universal background checks already in place.

Second, an extreme risk protection order (ERPO) law. In California, if a judge determines someone to be a risk and issues an ERPO, that order will:

  • Temporarily prohibit that person from purchasing or possessing firearms or ammunition.
  • Allow law enforcement to temporarily remove any firearms or ammunition already in that person’s possession.
  • Include procedures to allow the person have his or her guns and ammunition returned.

In short, an ERPO law is a tool to enable law enforcement to actually do something when someone says something as we as citizens are so often encouraged to do. A law like this was passed in Florida only after the Parkland shooting a year ago this Valentine’s Day. Since then it’s been used over 200 times.

Finally, right after every school shooting or teen suicide, every person that hears about it says the same thing “where did he get the gun?” On learning where, nearly everyone says the same thing in response, “there oughtta be a law”. We’ve all had this conversation.


Well, these laws exist and they’re called child access prevention (CAP) laws.

Laws like these, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, are “designed to prevent children from accessing firearms, including laws imposing criminal liability when a child gains access to a firearm as a result of negligent firearm storage, laws preventing people from providing firearms to minors, and safe storage requirements that apply to all firearms.” According to the Wall Street Journal, in most mass school shootings, the killers use guns owned by a family member. Not exactly a surprise.

There were six mass shootings in four days last month. We can continue to do nothing and allow Pennsylvania schools, churches, synagogues, movie theaters and restaurants to be ad hoc 2nd amendment sacrifice centers. Or we can do something.

The ball’s in your court, legislators. Do something.

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Sean P. Quinlan
Sean P. Quinlan

Pennsylvania Capital-Star Opinion contributor Sean P. Quinlan, of Camp Hill, Pa., is an attorney and former Democratic candidate for the 87th House District. His work appears biweekly.