Proposed Pa. gun registry bill given ‘no chance’ of passage
A proposed bill that would require most guns to be registered in Pennsylvania is given little chance of moving forward by politicos in the state.
It also is, not unsurprisingly, opposed by gun rights groups and those who represent Western Pennsylvania in the state Legislature.
“It’s not registration for public protection; this is straight up Big Brother imposition,” said Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield. “I’m not a ‘no,’ I’m a ‘hell no!’ It is amazing to me that (the bill targets) lawful gun owners and forces them to be fingerprinted. We’re treating lawful gun owners like criminals.”
A provision in the bill that gives people denied an application three days to surrender their firearms was especially objectionable, Nelson said.
“This is more than a just a list,” he said. “It’s government-mandated fingerprinting and processing of every lawful gun owner. It’s quite a step.”
He’s received several calls on social media and calls to his office about the bill — something that’s surprising because it “hasn’t even been heard in committee,” Nelson said.
The bill, House Bill 768, is sponsored by Rep. Angel Cruz, a Philadelphia County Democrat, and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee on March 8.
“In this world of instant information, we can’t go an hour without hearing on the news or social media about crime, injury or death involving firearms,” Cruz wrote in a memo to his colleagues. “Pew Research Center reports that almost half of Americans personally know someone who has been shot, with 40,000 gun-related deaths reported in 2017.
“Six in ten Americans believe that our nation’s gun laws are not strict enough, and it’s time something be done to address this problem.”
What the bill calls for
The legislation would task the state police with maintaining a registry of gun owners, and each gun would be permitted at a cost of $10 per gun per year.
According to Cruz’ memo: “A registration certificate will only be issued to individuals who are eligible to possess a firearm under Federal and State law, who have never been convicted of a crime of violence and have not been convicted of a crime relating to the use, possession or sale of any dangerous drug within five years prior to the application. This PSP database will aid all law enforcement officials with investigations and with tracking missing or stolen firearms.”
“I think it’s quite unconstitutional,” said Klint Macro, president of the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League.
Firearms are the “only object guaranteed” in the Bill of Rights, according to Macro, 44, of Plum.
“I completely equate it to having to register every copy of the Bible I own or every book,” he said.
Mark Boerio, the third generation owner of the Army & Navy Store on Ligonier Street in Latrobe, said he’s heard a lot of customers talking about the proposal and many are particularly upset over the $10 per firearm annual fee to cover the costs of state police background checks and fingerprinting.
“They point out they have already paid tax once on their firearms when they originally purchased them,” Boerio said.
“The proposal says it would be $10 per gun each year, and some people have some pretty big collections, so it could wind up costing them a lot of money,” he said.
Boerio, whose store sells guns and ammunition and has an indoor pistol range, said he’s heard of similar gun registry bills talked about on the federal level that haven’t gone anywhere.
“I can’t see this one going anywhere, either,” he said.
Committee chair: ‘No chance’
Neither can the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
“There is no chance that HB 768 moves in the House Judiciary Committee,” Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin County, said in an email to the Tribune-Review.
“Gun registries do not stop violent and criminal acts with guns. They only unfairly infringe on the rights of law abiding gun owners. I will gladly resist any misguided attempts to dilute the Second Amendment rights of law abiding Pennsylvanians,” Kauffman said.
Rep. George Dunbar, R-Penn Township, said he’s only heard opposition to the bill from constituents.
What’s “highly unusual” is that this bill has yet to make it out of committee before people started talking about it, Dunbar said.
“The bill in its present form has no chance of seeing the light of day. … I do believe it is unconstitutional.”
Rep. Frank Dermody, D-Oakmont, also opposes the bill and believes it won’t even be considered in the Judiciary Committee.
Even the gun control advocacy group CeaseFirePA isn’t lobbying for the bill, the group’s executive director, Shira Goodman said.
“This isn’t high up on our agenda right now,” Goodman said. “We want to pass things that work and can have an impact. This bill is a lightning rod. We really want to be both strategic and pragmatic — and tactful.”
Given the political makeup of the Legislature, veteran Pennsylvania pollster and political scientist G. Terry Madonna of Franklin & Marshall College said the lack of support for the bill isn’t surprising.
“Unless I’m on Mars and don’t understand (the Legislature),” Madonna said. “I just don’t see that piece of legislation going anywhere.”
Pittsburgh’s gun ban attempt
It’s important for state officials to have more conversations about gun control, according to Dan Gilman, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff.
Pittsburgh City Council is in the midst of an effort to enact firearms regulations that would ban assault rifles, a measure championed by Peduto but the legality of which has been debated.
“The city certainly supports Harrisburg taking stronger action on gun safety generally. Both at the state level, but also permitting the city to have more freedom to do so,” Gilman said. “City residents should be allowed to self-govern and have their own elected officials decide what makes sense in the City of Pittsburgh.”
It’s striking that people are required to be licensed to drive, to register their vehicles and report to authorities when they’re stolen, but “we do none of that for gun ownership,” Gilman said.
“Certainly, taking the safety of guns on the street more seriously is a good thing in Harrisburg,” he said. “It’s important we start having these conversations at the state level.”
What other states do
Six states and the District of Columbia require registration of some or all firearms, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
Hawaii and the District of Columbia require the registration of all firearms, California maintains a database of gun transfer records, and New York requires the registration of all handguns through its licensing law. Maryland, Connecticut and New Jersey also require some gun registration.
Conversely, eight states, including Pennsylvania, currently have laws prohibiting gun registries. The others are Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Rhode Island, South Dakota and Vermont.
Tom Davidson is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Tom at 724-226-4715, [email protected] or via Twitter .