For the next two weeks, Pennsylvania’s House Judiciary Committee will hold a rare series of hearings on gun bills that range from arming teachers to disarming bad guys. This is noteworthy only because Pennsylvania has some of the nation’s weakest gun laws. Let’s hope the legislature becomes more afraid of the political wave sweeping the country in the wake of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting of 17 children and adults on Feb. 14 than it is of the National Rifle Association.
These hearings could turn out to be as useless as the thoughts and prayers of gutless politicians, but we hope the committee will consider a few fresh examples of how guns in the hands of the wrong people lead to needless death and injury — and take action to protect us.
Lawmakers should know that on Easter, a 4-year-old Southwest Philadelphia boy found a loaded .22-caliber handgun lying on his dad’s bed. The boy shot himself in the leg. The father wasn’t charged, but he should have been, under the city’s gun safety ordinance, which requires parents to keep guns locked up so children can’t get them. Philadelphia, though, is ahead of the state. Pennsylvania does not even have a safe-storage law. A bill requiring safe storage sponsored by State Rep. Tim Briggs (D., Montgomery) should be passed.
Massachusetts has such a law, and it’s effective: While guns are used in 39 percent of youth suicides across the nation; in Massachusetts, it’s 9 percent.
Over the weekend, a man shot his girlfriend and himself in West Philadelphia while three young children were in the home. The loss of life and trauma to children are reason enough to keep guns away from domestic abusers. A bill sponsored by State Sen. Thomas Killion (R., Delaware) would keep guns away from those convicted of domestic abuse. It’s already cleared the Senate; the House should pass it.
On Friday, Gov. Murphy issued a “name and shame” executive order in New Jersey. He wants to expose the states where guns used in crimes in New Jersey originate, which means he’s likely to frequently wag his finger at Pennsylvania.
Most out-of-state guns found at New Jersey crime scenes were purchased in Pennsylvania because it’s much easier to get a gun in a state that protects the NRA rather than its people. In 2016, 412 of the guns found at New Jersey crime scenes came from Pennsylvania. An additional 247 guns were purchased in Virginia, which puts it in second place.
It is a disgrace that Pennsylvania has laws so loose that criminals and others with bad intentions can so easily obtain guns. Among other reforms, the state can and should tighten up background checks and institute a waiting period for gun purchases.
Also on Friday, a federal judge in Massachusetts ruled that the Second Amendment does not protect assault rifles. Bills calling for an assault weapons ban in Pennsylvania are sponsored by State Sen. Wayne Fontana and State Rep. Ed Gainey (both D., Allegheny). The legislature should pass them.
These bills are real opportunities for the state to turn the tide on gun violence, and for lawmakers to finally signal that keeping the status quo is no longer viable. Shame on any legislators who can’t see that.