State Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, speaks during a Capitol news conference on Tuesday, 10/26/21 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)
(*This story was updated at 3:30 p.m. on Tuesday, 10/26/21 to include comment from the office of Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland)
On the eve of the three year anniversary of the mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, which claimed the lives of 11 people, Gov. Tom Wolf, his Democratic allies in the General Assembly, and advocates made a renewed push for a package of anti-gun violence bills that they said will help prevent the future loss of life.
“We cannot stand by and do nothing about the threat of gun violence following our children into their schools, our workers into their places of employment, and our worshippers into their sacred spaces,” Wolf said during a Tuesday news conference at the Capitol.
There, he and others also denounced legislation now before the General Assembly that would make it easier for people to sue municipalities over their local gun ordinances and expand the number of people who can carry concealed weapons.
The Democratic governor, who’s headed into the final months of his second, and last term, vowed Tuesday to veto both bills if they reach his desk.
Legislation sponsored by Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Cambria, seeks to block local gun ordinances that are stronger than existing state law, and allow anyone impacted by them to sue over those ordinances. Last week, a divided Pennsylvania Supreme Court, acting in response to litigation filed against the city of Harrisburg, ruled that gun owners do not have to violate a local gun law to have legal standing to challenge its constitutionality in court.
Another bill, sponsored by Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, would allow anyone aged 18 or older to carry a concealed firearm without a permit — gun rights advocates refer to this practice as “constitutional carry.”
“This is a Pennsylvania epidemic,” Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said in rebuttal to gun-rights supporters who have tried to characterize eruptions of gun violence as a primarily urban problem. Rural areas, often represented by Republicans, are equally impacted by handgun fatalities — more often by suicide, Williams and others argued.
The Senate delayed action on both bills this week, according to Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny.
*Erica Clayton Wright, a spokesperson for Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, whose office controls the chamber’s voting calendar confirmed that the Senate was not planning a vote this week, and said Ward’s office did not have a firm commitment on when or if the bills might see a vote.
“This week in the Senate we are working to get the Pennsylvania’s economy back on track by advancing a small businesses tax reform package to help small businesses in their recovery and to remain competitive,” she said. “The press conference held [Tuesday] by the governor and Democratic leadership was presumptuous as we are not running [Second Amendment] bills in the Senate this week. It’s difficult to comment on legislation that was not intended to run.”
Wolf and his allies pressed the case Tuesday for a quartet of long-sought measures, including “extreme risk protection orders,” more familiarly known as “red flag” laws, which would allow someone to seek a court order to temporarily seize a person’s weapons if they believed they posed an immediate danger to themselves or others.
Democrats and their allies also are seeking legislative authorization of a bill requiring people to report lost and stolen weapons to law enforcement, and another closing a loophole in the state’s gun background check law governing the sale of long guns.
Charlotte Borger, a student at Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pa., and the president of her school’s chapter of the anti-gun violence group Students Demand Action, castigated Republican lawmakers for putting the interest of the gun lobby ahead of the safety of Pennsylvania’s young people.
If the Legislature approves the two Senate bills, “so much work to keep people safe in our schools is at risk,” she said.
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