Republicans in suburban Philadelphia wanted it to become law. So did every single member of Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled state Senate from both parties. So did Democrat Gov. Wolf, advocates trying to keep domestic-violence victims alive, and just about anyone with more than two brain cells to rub together.
It was a GOP-backed bill that would order all alleged domestic abusers to give up their guns after being slapped with a protection-from-abuse order.
And as it appeared on the verge of passage this past June, Republican leaders in the House stopped it dead in its tracks.
It was a sickening display of swamp-like servitude to the gun lobby by a body whose committee and caucus leaders overwhelmingly hail from the more uber-conservative, rural districts in our state.
Instead of using their 120-83 Republican majority to help save a woman from a raging spouse or boyfriend with a Smith and Wesson, this group of elected state employees blew a kiss to the gun lobby.
They did it despite the fact that two of their own members, Republicans Sen. Tom Killion of Chester County, and Rep. Marguerite Quinn of Bucks County, were the sponsors.
They did it despite this being a common-sense change. They did it because it would have required standing up to the kooks in their caucus — and the lobbyists who think the right to bear arms includes having the right to kill your girlfriend with a gun, and pursue justice for the victim afterward.
No one will tell me exactly what happened — or at whose urging. I spent hours calling around Harrisburg and beyond, only to be left with that familiar pang of disgust you get when trying to force transparency in government.
“To be completely honest,” Julie Bancroft of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence had warned me, “I don’t know that we have a full sense of what really went down.”
Let’s start with the locals.
Killion and Quinn pushed versions of this bill in the Senate and House, respectively. Both are Republicans from the Philadelphia suburbs and, as such, are now marginal players in state GOP politics. That’s because the state Republican House caucus is now home to some pretty loud tea party types.
Killion’s version passed the Senate unanimously this spring.
His bill would no longer allow alleged abusers to give up their guns to friends or family members after being hit with a final PFA order. The new law also would make it mandatory — and not up to a judge, as the law currently allows — for a PFA defendant’s guns to be taken away.
If you’re separately convicted in criminal court of misdemeanor domestic violence, Killion’s bill no longer gives you 60 days to turn in your guns. You get 48 hours.
The gun lobby did not oppose its passage in the Senate.
But then, not-good stuff happened.
The House Judiciary Committee, led by veteran conservative Rep. Ron Marsico, held unprecedented gun-control hearings on a large number of bills that resulted, unsurprisingly, in virtually zero legislative action. They were a dog-and-pony show following the Parkland, Fla., shootings.
Marsico’s committee then took action on a domestic-violence bill authored by Quinn. Staffers replaced the text with the Senate version.
So far, so good.
But then staffers rewrote a provision that, despite domestic-violence advocates warning it would make the gun lobby ballistic, did just that.
Instead of forcing convicted criminal abusers to relinquish their guns in 48 hours, as the Killion bill proposed, Marsico’s people changed that to 24 hours.
Marsico’s office would not make him or anyone on his committee available to publicly explain what happened. A spokesperson for House Republicans told me the change was intended to bring the gun-turnover period in line with the 24 hours currently given to PFA defendants. He was unclear about whether it had been done at any outsider’s behest.
This turned into a poison pill.
Just days after the bill passed out of committee on June 19, and within hours of an expected vote by the full House on June 25, gun lobbyist Kim Stolfer blitzed the General Assembly.
One of Stolfer’s messages, the leader of Firearms Owners Against Crime told me Thursday, was that the 24 hours to surrender a firearm was “ridiculous. … They knew from their prior work with us that 24 was not good.”
Stolfer said he texted his displeasure to Pittsburgh-area House Speaker Mike Turzai. Rank-and-file members got emails, too.
House leaders didn’t do what they get paid to do — whip their members behind a vote for a good bill.
They instead scotched it. With just 11 days left when the House reconvenes next month, the bill is viewed as all but dead.
“It is definitely the intention to bring this bill back up when we come back in September and October,” House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin told me on Thursday. “We wanted to give the members the opportunity this summer to fully ascertain what is and what isn’t in the bill. When members have a lot of questions, they usually vote no.”
There are no assurances it can pass.
Killion still calls this bill a “no-brainer.”
Quinn, who left the Capitol in June with unconcealed frustration, also sounds hamstrung.
“I’m going to hope,” she told me, “that common sense prevails.”
This is no way to run a railroad, people.