‘We cannot accept this as normal’: Wolf calls on U.S. Senate to pass background check bill

Governor Wolf, joined by Pennsylvania Treasurer Joe Torsella and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman, announces a $317 million deposit into PA's Rainy Day Fund at the Harrisburg Capitol on July 9.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday called for the U.S. Senate to return from its summer recess to take up gun-control legislation previously approved by the U.S. House.

The Democrat also called on Republican leaders in the majority-Republican state House and Senate to “advance common-sense reforms that would reduce access to guns for violent and dangerous individuals.”

Wolf’s office released a statement just hours after President Donald Trump used a televised address to the nation to pledge more resources for mental health treatment, but not stricter gun-control measures, after lone gunmen killed 31 people and wounded scores more in separate incidents in Texas and Ohio over the weekend.

“The biggest and most immediate step that we could take as a nation is for the United States Senate to reconvene and pass House Resolution 8, a sweeping gun safety bill, approved by the U.S. House in February,” Wolf’s statement reads.

“Further, it is my belief that Congress should immediately pursue a ban or significant restrictions on assault rifles and ammunition accessories — those weapons of choice of mass shooters. I call on Majority Leader McConnell to immediately end the Senate’s recess and bring this bill to a vote. This is a nationwide crisis and it demands a national solution.”

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On Monday, Democrats in the state House called on the chamber’s Republican leaders to convene a special legislative session on gun violence. 

Mike Straub, spokesperson for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said in an email that “the solemn events of the past week are devastating for all of us.”

“We will continue to carefully examine what is causing these tragedies within our society, and how we are addressing the most dangerous and mentally ill members of our communities,” Straub added. “Special session, or in regular session, our members are working to find an answer to ending horrific acts of violence while recognizing there are millions upon millions of Pennsylvanians who responsibly and legally own firearms.”

In the Senate, GOP President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, acknowledged the “large role” that “mental illness … plays in many of these shootings.”

Experts dispute that contention, however. According to a 2016 study from the American Psychiatric Association, “mass shootings by people with serious mental illness represent less than 1 percent of all yearly gun-related homicides.”

Read the full text of Wolf’s statement:

“The Tree of Life shooting made clear the imminent danger of hatred mixed with powerful guns,” Governor Wolf said. “We saw the carnage up close and we know there is more that we can do. Unfortunately, as a country and a commonwealth, we have failed to address these dangers, or adequately respond to gun violence that plagues communities, large and small, on a day-to-day basis. There is no single solution, but there are certainly commonsense steps we can take, on a myriad of problems, to reduce the likelihood and propensity of gun violence.

“The biggest and most immediate step that we could take as a nation is for the United States Senate to reconvene and pass House Resolution 8, a sweeping gun safety bill, approved by the U.S. House in February. Further, it is my belief that Congress should immediately pursue a ban or significant restrictions on assault rifles and ammunition accessories – those weapons of choice of mass shooters. I call on Majority Leader McConnell to immediately end the Senate’s recess and bring this bill to a vote. This is a nationwide crisis and it demands a national solution.

“Further, the commonwealth must also do more. I urge the House and Senate to address this issue. In Pennsylvania, as long as it is a private sale, any person can still buy an assault rifle to commit a mass shooting without a background check. We still don’t have a ‘red flag’ law that could get these weapons away from someone who was known to be dangerous. These are just two of many bills that exist right now to reduce violence. All of these bills have been stalled for too long.

“Over the past few months, my administration has been consulting partners and members of the general assembly on what more the executive branch can be doing to reduce gun violence and keep weapons from dangerous individuals. We want to ensure we are using the full weight of the executive branch to combat this problem.

“This is just the start. We should be passing measures to reduce violence by combatting poverty and increasing opportunity for struggling communities. We should strengthen our hate crimes law and better target domestic terrorism and white nationalism. We should certainly invest in our mental health systems and combat the stigma and any barriers to seeking treatment.

“But we cannot limit our action to any one of these problems, either. This crisis demands swift but comprehensive reforms. We know what we are doing now is not enough. The status quo is costing people their lives and robbing many Americans of their peace of mind and freedom to live their daily lives without fear. We cannot accept this violence and fear as normal. We must take action.”

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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