Gun issue won't stall budget Pa.'s black caucus leader met with the NRA. He sees progress.

Posted: July 03, 2007

HARRISBURG — The president of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus said yesterday that after meeting with House Democratic leaders and the National Rifle Association, he would not seek to hold up the state budget over gun-control legislation.

"They have made a commitment to doing something, maybe not today or next week, but next month," said Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland (D., Delaware), chairman of the 17-member group.

Kirkland said late yesterday that he had yet to discuss the results of the meeting with the members of his caucus and did not know if they stood with him on his budget pledge.

Last week, Kirkland and other members of the caucus forced a floor debate on gun violence, threatening to withhold critical votes on the budget unless the chamber took action on gun-control bills.

But yesterday, with budget negotiations at a standstill two days into the new fiscal year, Kirkland said he was satisfied with the progress made during yesterday's unusual meeting with the NRA, the powerful interest group that has stood firmly on the opposite side of gun-control measures.

With 250,000 members in Pennsylvania, the NRA enjoys widespread bipartisan support among state lawmakers.

"It was positive," Kirkland said of the meeting. "We look forward to hearing their proposals."

The NRA's Pennsylvania lobbyist agreed.

"We both want the same results; we want to attack crime in Pennsylvania, particularly in Philadelphia," said John Hohenwarter. "We are hoping to come to agreement on a package that fulfills everyone's needs."

But the most controversial bill, to limit handgun purchases to one a month, and other gun-control measures that Philadelphia lawmakers and Gov. Rendell believe can have the greatest impact on gun violence were not part of the discussion.

Hohenwarter called one-handgun-a-month laws a "fraud" and contended they had failed in states where they had been tried. Instead, he said, lawmakers should find ways to provide more funding for law enforcement, investigation and prosecution.

"They should not pass legislation just to grab headlines," he said.

Rendell, amid budget negotiations last week, has remained unmoved, saying he would make the passage of gun-control legislation a priority in the fall. In Philadelphia, as of 11:59 p.m. Sunday, the death toll stood at 203 for the year.

House Majority Leader Bill DeWeese (D., Greene), a gun-rights supporter, said he was willing to continue talks and to negotiate on several bills involving penalties and sentencing that "meet the threshold of compromise."

"The House members are focused on a package of legislation dealing with gun violence, particularly in cases in urban settings," he said.

Bills to increase penalties for gun crimes and legislation to toughen mandatory sentencing requirements could come up as early as this week, said DeWeese.

Last fall, during a special House session on gun violence, proposals to limit handgun purchases to one a month, require the reporting of lost and stolen firearms, and ban assault weapons all failed by 2-1 ratios.

Contact staff writer Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com.

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