Bucks legislator: Expand Pa. background checks on rifle sales

State Rep. Steven Santarsiero, D- Bucks. (File photo)
State Rep. Steven Santarsiero, D- Bucks. (File photo)
Posted: April 12, 2013

HARRISBURG - As two U.S. senators were trumpeting a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks on gun sales, a state lawmaker unveiled his own proposal for broader background reviews in Pennsylvania.

State Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D., Bucks) said his bill would expand background checks in the state to include purchases of long guns, including assault rifles, conducted in private sales.

Santarsiero said it was time to close the state loophole that allows the transfer of long guns among private sellers without a background check.

"Right now in Pennsylvania, criminals may lawfully purchase an assault rifle even though it is illegal for that same criminal to purchase a handgun," Santarsiero said Wednesday at a Capitol news conference.

In Washington, the deal that Sens. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) outlined on background checks makes exceptions for "family transfers and some private sales" between friends or neighbors. Santarsiero's state proposal exempts only family members.

Existing federal law requires licensed dealers to do background checks on buyers for any type of firearms purchase but does not cover gun shows. As Toomey noted Wednesday, Pennsylvania law goes further, requiring anyone selling handguns to perform background checks - but it exempts long-gun sales.

David Scholnick, Pennsylvania coordinator for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the group financed by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said this exemption has allowed a proliferation of unregulated sales of long guns.

Santarsiero was joined Wednesday by state Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a fellow Democrat who said the state should end exemptions for long guns, because "they all kill."

Citing polls showing most Americans now support universal background checks, Santarsiero, who appeared with other Democratic legislators as well as mayors and mothers with children, said it was "time to act."

His proposal faces long odds in a Republican-controlled state House. Steve Miskin, spokesman for Majority Leader Mike Turzai (R., Allegheny), said Pennsylvania does not need any new gun laws.

"Current law in Pennsylvania is already very strong. . . . It's about enforcement," Miskin said, adding that gun crimes in the state are on the decline.

"Since 2006, crimes with firearms have been cut 20 percent, while in the same time period there were three million firearms sales," he said. "The laws are working."

Miskin also noted that in the past, members of both parties have opposed stricter gun laws in Harrisburg, even when a gun-control Democrat was in charge. "Those bills couldn't get through when Rendell was governor and the Democrats in control of House," he said.

Santarsiero said he was aware of that, but said that if California, Maryland, and New York can tighten gun laws, so can Pennsylvania.

"We have had inaction for too long," said the Democrat, whose district includes a Newtown borough and township. "Those emotions are not unique to Newtown, Connecticut. We can and must take reasonable action to make communities safer."


Contact Amy Worden

at 717-783-2584 or aworden@phillynews.com, or follow @inkyamy on Twitter.

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