As children across the country walk out of school Wednesday in a cry for gun safety, there is a sliver of hope that even Pennsylvania’s gun-controlled legislature sees the Feb. 14 slaughter of 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as a call to action.
Some states have already tuned up their gun laws. Florida raised its firearms purchase age from 18 to 21, banned bump stocks, and allowed some teachers to be armed. Oregon closed a loophole that had allowed convicted domestic abusers to own guns if they did not live with their victims.
Pennsylvania House Judiciary Chairman Ron Marsico (R., Dauphin) is holding a series of meetings on gun legislation in April. By Pennsylvania’s low standards for gun control, these meetings are worth noting, because the House and Senate Judiciary Committees have long been burial grounds for gun safety legislation.
In the Capitol, even seemingly innocuous bills that could save the lives of the vulnerable, like children and domestic abuse victims, get sent to judiciary committees, never to be heard from again.
Marsico is breaking the silence and says he wants to hear from the full spectrum of viewpoints on guns, from the arm-the-teachers crowd to the assault-rifle-ban activists. But hearings shouldn’t be venting sessions. There’s been enough of that at the funerals and bedsides of gunshot victims. For the hearings to have any meaning, they should produce lifesaving legislation. The National Rifle Association can’t be allowed to bully the legislature into holding the greed of gun manufacturers above the lives of Pennsylvanians.
At least two bills before the House and Senate Judiciary Committees should be easy to pass.
One, sponsored by Rep. Tim Briggs (D., Montgomery), requires parents to lock up their guns so children can’t get at them. Briggs, who has introduced similar legislation since 2009, says no judiciary chairman – Republican or Democratic – has ever allowed a hearing. But hear this: More than 2,800 children were killed with guns in 2015 and almost a third of those deaths were classified as unintentional shootings or suicides. Thousands more were wounded. According to the Giffords Law Center, states that have enacted some sort of safe-storage law have seen the number of unintentional deaths or suicides among children decline.
Briggs’ bill doesn’t take anyone’s guns away, but it does require gun owners to be responsible.
A second bill, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Killion (R., Delaware), would force any subjects of protection-from-abuse orders to surrender their weapons to authorities within 48 hours of the order’s being issued. Presently, a person under an order has 60 days to surrender firearms, giving him plenty of time to stash them with a friend or relative.The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports that there is a high correlation between domestic abuse fatalities and guns. In 2017, guns were involved in 66 percent of the 117 domestic violence fatalities in Pennsylvania.
After languishing in the Senate Judiciary Committee for a year, Killion’s bill may be called up for a hearing next week. The legislature should pass it. Gov. Wolf has already said he supports it.
To safety advocates, Marsico’s gun summit may seem like too little, too late — or just an election-year gesture to make voters think the legislature can do its job. So, call them and tell them it’s a new day, and they need to enact laws to protect us from gun violence now.