Pennsylvania’s Democratic state and federal lawmakers are loudly calling for new legislation in the wake of the tragic Connecticut school shooting. Meanwhile their Republican counterparts are cautioning against rash action.
It’s important to note that prominent leaders on both sides of the aisle acknowledge the possibility – some even say likelihood – that no law or set of laws dealing with guns or mental health could have prevented the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary.
Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday said a rush to legislate was ill-advised.
“There’s going to be discussions, obviously, starting at the national level about the issue of guns, but we’re not going to get into that discussion right now,” he said, according to Capitolwire. “We’re not going to get into that discussion right now. We’re going through the funeral process. I think we owe that to those children. We need to take some time.”
“There are a lot of gun control laws that have been passed…It really comes down to enforcement of those laws,” Corbett said. “As you know, I’m a strong proponent of enforcing the laws that we already have…I’m sure we’ll be having discussions in the future, but that’s as far as I’m gonna go right now.”
His message was more general than that of his spokesman, Kevin Harley to the Philadelphia Inquirer the previous day. “The governor’s position is, we have enough gun-control laws in Pennsylvania and in this country,” Harley said on Monday. “Additional gun-control laws would not stop these tragedies. Gun control is not going to stop madmen.”
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), a vocal conservative and staunch advocate of gun ownership, went much further.
“There will be no additional gun control in Pennsylvania,” Metcalfe told the Inquirer. “I will not allow the left to use this horrific act to advance their gun-grabbing agenda. The support is not there in Pennsylvania.”
But another Republican state Rep., Todd Stephens of Montgomery County, wants to improve the quality of background checks. He won the support of the Philadelphia Daily News Editorial Board for his proposal of a law that would close a potential loophole in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System. His forthcoming bill would instruct the state police to submit information on those involuntarily committed to a mental institution in Pa. to the national database.
“Those who have been committed to a mental institution are prohibited from possessing firearms, but unless we include our mental-health data in the nationwide database, these individuals may fall through the cracks and improperly be permitted to purchase firearms despite mental-health issues,” Stephens wrote in his co-sponsorship memo.
Most of Pa.’s congressional Republicans expressed sympathy with the victims and their families, but declined to expound on possible legislative action - such as whether Congress should reinstate its ban on assault weapons.
Many Democrats called for immediate action.
On Wednesday, state Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Phila) said he will introduce a ban on assault weapons and high capacity magazine clips.
“Words cannot express the sadness and anger that we as a nation are feeling right now. My thoughts and prayers, and those of Philadelphia and the nation, are with the families of Newtown, Connecticut,” said Farnese in a press release announcing the push.
“Last week’s massacre, and the similarly horrible tragedies that have occurred over the last few years, have been happening more and more frequently in the United States and they need to stop.”
Rep. Ron Waters (D-Phila) is making a similar push in the state House.
State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montco) says he will introduce two bills next session: one to limit the number of gun purchases to one per month for each individual, another to require the reporting of lost or stolen guns within 48 hours.
One of Corbett’s prospective 2014 opponents, former DEP Secretary John Hanger, criticized what he said was a lack of leadership.
“Governor Corbett’s huge budget cuts to mental health services and his foot-dragging on implementing the Affordable Health Care Act means far too many mentally ill people are not getting the services they need,” he said.
In Washington DC, Democratic members of Congress like Bob Brady (D-Phila) and Allyson Schwartz (D-Montco) back gun legislation. And Congressman-elect Matt Cartwright (D-Lackawanna) reiterated Wednesday that he’s back a ban on assault weapons.
Perhaps the true test of the momentum is Sen. Bob Casey. He’s a culturally conservative Democrat who has boasted of his National Rifle Association grade in the past. He declined to engage in the gun control conversation after the Aurora shootings in July while he was campaigning for re-election.
Asked by the Allentown Morning Call, his office offered a non-committal response akin to that of many Republicans. But it left the door open to new laws.
The problem, the statement said, “will require a comprehensive strategy that acknowledges all of the factors that contributed to this tragedy and takes every appropriate step to protect our citizens, especially our kids.”