The drumbeat for tougher firearms laws, they say, is swelling from people in many quarters, including the governor.
From House Speaker Dennis O'Brien (R., Phila.), who blocked gun-control bills as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, to the current leaders of the committees in the House and Senate, there is reluctance to support gun bills for fear they will fail or bring lawmakers defeat in the next election.
Rep. Dan Surra (D., Elk) said that while he sympathized with residents living in high-crime areas, he could not support any gun-restriction bill because in certain quarters of his district, a hunting stronghold in the north-central part of the state, guns are a single-issue item at the polls.
"They will vote you out on this," Surra said.
"I'm going to continue to push for one gun a month," he said following a news conference to drum up support for his proposal to lease the Pennsylvania Turnpike.
"Voters are in a different place than some lawmakers," said Rep. Dwight Evans (D., Phila.), the poll's sponsor and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Evans' poll, which asked 600 residents statewide for their views on various gun-control proposals, showed that 70 percent of the respondents supported a one-handgun-a-month law. Among those queried, 38 percent owned a firearm.
Crime hit home last year for the one-handgun bill's lead sponsor, Rep. John Myers (D., Phila.), whose son disappeared under mysterious circumstances last August and has yet to be found.
But deep philosophical differences separate those in rural areas who treasure their Second Amendment rights, and for whom a Winchester .30-06 is for shooting deer, from those in urban areas who associate gun use with murder.
"Guns are part of our culture, too. The difference is we don't shoot each other," said Surra, who recalls teaching students to build guns in shop class.
And although Evans is determined to get the one-handgun-a-month bill to the floor this year, Caltagirone, the new chairman of the Judiciary Committee, does not think he can deliver it. "I don't have the votes at this point in time," Caltagirone said, adding that he hopes to work on a compromise that could pass.
Clearly, a battle looms over one-handgun-a-month in the Capitol.
"We're opposed, of course," said Melody Zullinger, executive director of Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen, an umbrella group representing 300 hunting and outdoor organizations.
The National Rifle Association and the sportsmen's groups know that their members are sensitive about gun control, and the organizations are increasing their efforts to combat the bills pending in Harrisburg. They are planning a rally in the Capitol on April 24.
"All [the laws] do is infringe on law-abiding citizens' rights," Zullinger said. "The criminals get illegal guns on the black market. It's not going to curb the crime problem."
Although gun-rights advocates are concerned about the Democratic majority in the House, they still think they can prevail, she said.
"We still have confidence enough on both sides to stop the bill from getting to the floor, or passing," Zullinger said.
This time around, gun-control groups have a new advocate: Philip R. Goldsmith, Philadelphia's former managing director, who is now president of CeaseFire PA.
"The time is ripe," said Goldsmith, who wants to build a grassroots movement like the one that defeated the controversial pay raise that legislators voted themselves in 2005. "The paradigm is changing on this."
There are few studies tracking the effectiveness of handgun limits, and at least one is 10 years old.
That 1996 study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found evidence that Virginia's one-a-month limit reduced by more than half the number of guns traced to Virginia that were used in crimes in the Northeast.
Pennsylvania "is a priority state for us," said Peter Hamm, communications director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Handgun Violence, which teamed with other gun-control groups to form the coalition Pennsylvanians Against Trafficking Handguns in 2005. "We believe there is enough political ability in the legislature to enact change."
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R., Bucks), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he supported one-handgun-a-month but would not bring up a bill for a vote in his committee that is doomed to failure.
"I run what I think I can get through, and this didn't come close to passing," said Greenleaf. "Still, we have to do something that will have an impact. It's a war."