‘This is about organizing government’: Gov. Wolf signs executive order on gun violence

Gov. Wolf signs an executive order on gun violence. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)

Gov. Tom Wolf was set to sign an executive order to combat gun violence on Thursday.

That plan was delayed Wednesday night, after a man in North Philadelphia shot six police officers during a seven-hour standoff. The incident made national news and renewed calls from Democrats for gun control on the state and federal level.

While the shooting attracted national attention, it was also part of what has become every day violence in Pennsylvania’s largest city, where 205 people have been killed so far this year. Just two miles from where Wednesday’s shooting took place, four men and one teen boy were shot on Thursday.

Joined by state lawmakers and advocates, Wolf on Friday signed what was called an unprecedented executive order to address gun violence. The governor said the plan aims to “strike a balance between freedom and safety.”

“This is about organizing government,” Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said.

The order creates a new position, senior advisor for gun violence prevention, which will be filled by Charles Ramsey, the chair of the state Commission on Crime and Delinquency and former D.C. and Philadelphia police chief. He will also head the new Special Council on Gun Violence, which will be tasked with conducting a review of the current background check system and making recommendations about how to “keep weapons from dangerous individuals.”

Ramsey promised to deliver to Wolf “something actionable.”

“All life has value,” he said Friday. “We don’t have to lose it in large quantities” to address gun violence.

Wolf’s order also establishes the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Commission on Crime and Delinquency, and a new Health department division on violence prevention.

Part of the strategy is to increase crime and health data sharing, Wolf said.

Wolf again called on the General Assembly to pass legislation to mandate the reporting of lost and stolen guns, require the safe storage of firearms, expand background checks, and establish extreme risk protection orders.

The state Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, is set to hold hearings on guns and mental health in September.

“This governor has done something that no other elected official in this country has ever done,” Williams said. “No president, no governor, no mayor has ever taken the politics out of whether you have the right to have a gun or not, and recognized the dignity of human beings is first and most important.”

Below is information from Wolf’s office on the new order:


Special Council on Gun Violence

  • Housed at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD), the Special Council on Gun Violence will consist of representatives from the following:
    • One representative from each of PCCD’s existing advisory committees, including the Children’s Advocacy Center Advisory Committee, Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, the Mental Health and Justice Advisory Committee, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee, the Victims’ Services Advisory Committee, the School Safety and Security Committee, and the Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Education and Training Board;
    • One representative from each of the four legislative caucuses of the General Assembly or their designees;
    • The Secretaries of Education, Health, and Human Services, the State Police Commissioner, the Executive Director of PCCD, and the Director of the Office of Homeland Security;
    • Any other ex-officio member as designated by the Governor.
  • The Council will meet within 60 days of the signing of the Executive Order and will be responsible for the following:
    • Adopting a public health and community engagement strategy that includes gun owners, health care professionals, and victims of gun-related incidents,
    • Reviewing current background check processes for firearms purchasers and making recommendations for improvement,
    • Reviewing best practices and making recommendations that keep weapons from dangerous individuals,
    • Identifying and defining strategies across Commonwealth agencies to align resources to reduce gun violence, and
    • Providing PCCD and the Senior Advisor with recommendations to reduce incidents of community violence, mass shootings, and domestic violence, suicide, and accidental shootings within 180 days of the initial meeting of the Council.

New Oversight and Data Sharing

  • Establish the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within PCCD and the Division of Violence Prevention within the Department of Health’s Bureau of Health Promotion and Risk Reduction. Together, the offices will tackle gun violence and prevention from both the public safety and public health perspectives.
    • Charles Ramsey, Chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, will serve as senior advisor to the Governor, leading the commonwealth’s efforts on gun reform.
    • Charge the Office of Gun Violence Prevention with coordinating a system of focused police deterrence in neighborhoods and cities where violence is most extreme; work with other Commonwealth agencies and stakeholders on community gun violence prevention; and lost and stolen firearms reporting requirements for law enforcement.
    • PCCD will staff the new Special Council on Gun Violence, which will meet within 60 days of the executive order signing to begin developing a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence.
  • Direct all departments to engage in a statewide effort at combatting the systemic causes of violence, namely poverty, economic opportunities, mental and behavioral health supports, and hopelessness.
  • Establish a Violence Data Dashboard to provide a better understanding of the scope, frequency, geography, and populations affected by violence, including counts, rates, and factors contributing to violence.

Reducing Community Gun Violence

  • Expand and support gun buyback programs through the Pennsylvania State Police (PSP) and municipal police departments.
  • Direct PSP and the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission (MPOETC) to develop training on community gun violence prevention and focused deterrence.
  • Increase data sharing among jurisdictions to ensure broad geographical data is represented and tracked at the state level.
  • Partner with the courts to grow awareness and utilization of evidence-based juvenile justice programs that are proven to reduce violent crimes.
  • Expand Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS), a proactive approach to improving school safety and promoting positive behavior, in schools statewide.

Combatting Mass Shootings

  • Charge PSP with expanding their monitoring of hate groups, white nationalists, and other fringe organizations and individuals, and conducting investigations, online and in communities, related to any threats of violence by these groups or individuals.
  • Expand the “See Something/Send Something” program to receive reports of suspicions of mass shootings by text and use a campaign to raise awareness of the ability to contact police by text.
  • Coordinate PSP and MPOTEC with local first responders to develop training on how to facilitate and handle warnings of suspicions of potential mass shootings.
    • PSP and PA Capitol Police will coordinate with agency secretaries to offer active shooter/incident management training to all employees, not just management.
  • Enroll Pennsylvania in the “States for Gun Safety” coalition, a multistate partnership charged with combatting the gun violence by sharing information and establishing the nation’s first regional Gun Violence Research Consortium.
  • Direct the Office of Homeland Security to launch an awareness campaign regarding the local, state, and federal resources on safety planning and preparedness.

Halting Domestic Violence-Related and Self-Inflicted Shootings

  • Direct the Suicide Prevention Task Force to make immediate recommendations on steps to reduce suicides by gun.
  • Build on current Mental Health Stigma campaigns that provide families and communities with real stories and statistics as well as information about how to access resources.
  • Develop a multidisciplinary Suicide Death Review Team to increase data collection and inform preventions efforts and policy decisions.
  • Increase awareness of and strengthen services within the Student Assistance Program, which allow school districts to provide mental health referrals, across the commonwealth by providing technical assistance.
Associate Editor Sarah Anne Hughes covers the governor and Pennsylvania's agencies. Before joining the Capital-Star, she was the state capitol reporter for Billy Penn and The Incline, and a 2018 corps member for Report for America. She was previously managing editor of Washington City Paper, editor-in-chief of DCist, and a national blogger for The Washington Post.

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