After Conn. tragedy, some in Pa. look again at gun laws

Posted: December 19, 2012

HARRISBURG - For the last two years, the words gun control vanished from the political debate in the state Capitol.

With Republicans controlling the legislature and the Governor's Office in a state that issued thousands of hunting licenses in 2012, the only controversial gun-related legislation under consideration was a bill to expand gun rights under the so-called castle doctrine.

That bill, allowing individuals to use deadly force when threatened anywhere outside their homes as well as inside, passed easily.

Now, after the massacre in Newtown, Conn., several Democratic lawmakers plan to reintroduce long-buried bills that would place new limits on gun ownership.

"There appears to be some evidence that the sheer magnitude of this tragedy has brought us to a tipping point," said Sen. Daylin Leach (D., Montgomery). "Everyone supports the right to have a weapon, but do we need people having assault weapons? These weapons were made for one thing: killing lots of people."

Leach wants to resurrect bills restricting gun purchases to one a month and requiring gun owners to report missing or stolen firearms, to address so-called straw purchasers - people who buy guns for felons who are barred from doing so.

But Gov. Corbett and the legislature's most vocal gun-rights proponent say that as horrific as the recent tragedy may be, it does not change their position against any additional gun-control measures.

"The governor's position is, we have enough gun-control laws in Pennsylvania and in this country," said his spokesman, Kevin Harley. "Additional gun-control laws would not stop these tragedies. Gun control is not going to stop madmen."

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R., Butler), chairman of the state government committee, closed the door Monday on any debate on gun-control measures in his committee.

"There will be no additional gun control in Pennsylvania," said Metcalfe, who organizes a popular rally in support of Second Amendment rights each year at the Capitol. "I will not allow the left to use this horrific act to advance their gun-grabbing agenda. The support is not there in Pennsylvania."

Former Gov. Ed Rendell disagrees on the support issue, citing a recent poll of NRA members and gun owners that suggested a majority supported some tightening of gun restrictions.

"The NRA has taken positions their membership is against," Rendell said Monday. "There is a disconnect between the NRA and its membership."

Rendell thinks federal legislation such as restoring the assault weapons ban or limiting gun magazine capacities has the potential for the greatest impact on crime reduction.

But he said a measure such as reporting of lost and stolen weapons would help curb gun violence in Pennsylvania. As governor, Rendell fought unsuccessfully for additional gun restrictions, including a reporting measure and a one-handgun-a-month limit.

State Rep. Todd Stephens (R., Montgomery) on Monday sent a memo seeking cosponsors for a bill he plans to introduce requiring state police to send mental-health data within 90 days to the federal database used to screen gun purchasers.

"Those who have been committed to a mental institution are prohibited from possessing firearms, but unless we include our mental-health data in the nationwide database, these individuals may fall through the cracks and improperly be permitted to purchase firearms despite mental-health issues."

Mayor Nutter, who was in the Capitol on Monday for the meeting of the state's electoral college, said that he supports "reasonable" gun-safety laws, such as an assault weapons ban and tightening background checks, and that he wants to ensure adequate funding of mental-health services.

"We need to remove the stigma for those who may have mental-health issues that they are facing and bringing those to light - not shoving people to a corner and then being surprised if later on serious problems develop," he said.

State Rep. Steve Santarsiero, a Democrat who represents parts of Bucks County including its own Newtown, announced on Facebook that he would sponsor an assault weapons ban bill.

Though no single approach will solve gun violence, Santarsiero wrote, "we should not use that fact as an excuse for doing nothing."


Contact Amy Worden at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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