CHANTILLY, VA – NOVEMBER 18: A potential buyer tries out a gun which is displayed on an exhibitor’s table during the Nation’s Gun Show on November 18, 2016 at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The show is one of the largest in the area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
A bill to allow all lawful gun owners in Pennsylvania over the age of 18 the right to carry a concealed firearm is on its way to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk after it passed the state House 107-92 after more than three-and-a-half hours of floor debate on Tuesday night.
The proposal, which would also remove a prohibition in state law on openly carrying firearms in Philadelphia, passed the state Senate 29-21 last week.
Wolf, a Democrat, has already promised to veto the proposal, and the GOP-controlled Legislature does not have the votes to override him.
However, Republicans and other conservative activists have been clear for months they wanted a vote on the bill, regardless of whether it would become law or not.
A veto, they’ve argued, would motivate their base ahead of the critical 2022 election when Republicans could flip the open governor’s seat. And the vote will also help gun rights activists identify moderate Republicans who are not strong enough on the issue. Wolf will leave office in January 2023, after serving the constitutional maximum of two, four-year terms.
Under current law, any Pennsylvania gun owner can openly carry a firearm, but only individuals age 21 or older who apply for, and get, a permit from their county sheriff can carry a concealed firearm.
But 21 states already have relaxed their gun laws to allow for concealed carry without a permit. Supporters, including many hardline gun rights groups, call this “constitutional carry.”
“This is not about who can lawfully possess a firearm,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairperson Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin. “This is about when you have a gun on your hip in a holster, and it’s cold outside, you can put a coat on and walk outside and not be breaking the law.”
They argue that given federal constitutional protections — and in Pennsylvania, also state provisions — citizens should not be required to petition the government to carry a firearm at all.
“What other constitutionally protected rights do Pennsylvanians have to pay to exercise?” asked state Rep. Abby Major, R-Armstrong.
However, the bill is opposed by gun violence prevention groups, as well as law enforcement groups such as the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and the Chiefs of Police Association.
Democrats argued that, constitutional language aside, courts have consistently held there is room for some limits on gun rights, as on all rights, and that permits for concealed carry were within bounds.
They added that the entire debate was political theater given Wolf’s stance.
“You’re wasting your time on a veto,” state Rep. Nancy Guenst, D-Montgomery, said.
On Monday, Democrats offered a number of amendments to the bill, including one to implement extreme risk protection orders, or a legal mechanism that lets family or law enforcement petition a judge to take away an individual’s guns who is deemed a threat to themself or others.
However, through procedural maneuvering, Republicans managed to table their proposals and avoid floor votes after nearly two hours of debate.
House Democrats said the efforts to avoid a straightforward up-or-down vote on their proposed changes was an affront to the process, and said that the legislature should take its role more seriously.
“Stop naming — never mind, I’ll leave that for another day. Well, hell, stop naming so many darn bridges, and start to actually do work for the people of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.” House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, said.
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