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Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania lawmakers to advance 5 bills intended to reduce gun violence

| Wednesday, April 18, 2018, 5:27 p.m.
The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg
The Pennsylvania State Capitol in Harrisburg

At least five bills meant to reduce gun violence will be given a chance to move forward in the Pennsylvania state House following two weeks of hearings that ended Wednesday, said Judiciary Committee Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin County.

The proposals would tighten rules for relinquishing firearms after domestic violence convictions, create “extreme risk protection orders” to prevent purchases by people deemed to be at risk of killing themselves or others, add police training for domestic violence calls and allow people to voluntarily exclude themselves from being able to purchase firearms for set periods of time.

Those provisions had the most support from legislators in both parties among the group of gun bills introduced in the wake of the Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February in Florida, Marsico said.

Not included were proposals to ban assault-style weapons, ban devices that make semiautomatic weapons function like automatic weapons and to expand background checks to include long rifle purchases.

Marsico said he might still call for votes on proposals in addition to the five bills, which are House bills 2060, 2227, 175, 273 and Senate Bill 501.

He said 37 legislators — some from each party — testified in the hearings after he invited all members to testify about gun violence. He plans to schedule another hearing in May to hear testimony from the public.

“We heard a lot of good, interesting and creative ideas,” he said of the hearings.

He said he was moved to hold the hearings after the shooting in Florida and mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, Pulse Night Club in Florida and the Las Vegas Strip in Nevada.

Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Hill District, said changes should address the fact that gun violence is most acute among people of color, especially in Pennsylvania, where he said 70 percent of homicides “impact black and brown people.”

“America has a real problem, and we all can choose to acknowledge it or not, but it's a crisis,” Wheatley told the committee. “Just like the opioid addiction, we have a gun violence issue that is rampant, and it's not just at schools.”

Rep. Dom Costa, D-Stanton Heights, who is a Judiciary Committee member, said several lawmakers on the committee talked about the flood of comments they have received from people on both sides of the issue.

“One thing we've learned, and that I kind of know, is just a vast, vast diversity in feelings about guns,” said Costa, adding that he wasn't aware of any similar hearings on guns in his 10 years in the General Assembly.

“There's no way we're going to take everyone's guns away, nor do we want to,” he said. “I'm a Second Amendment protector.”

Costa, who once served as Pittsburgh's police chief, co-sponsored bills to expand background checks to include long rifles and to ban devices, such as bump stocks, that make semi-automatic weapons shoot more rapidly.

Gun safety bills also have been introduced in the Senate, where they would go through a separate committee process.

Wes Venteicher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-380-5676, wventeicher@tribweb.com or via Twitter @wesventeicher.

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