Pa. House lawmakers show bipartisan support for Republican gun safety bill amendments

‘What I think you saw today is some Republicans willing to work on real solutions to this crisis,’ CeaseFirePA Executive Director Adam Garber said

By: - May 3, 2023 6:06 pm
The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

The ceiling of the main Rotunda inside Pennsylvania’s Capitol building. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania House lawmakers approved Republican amendments to a slate of four gun safety bills as they sought compromise on the first gun reform legislation to reach the House floor since Democrats won control of the chamber last year. 

One amendment addresses concern among Republicans about the weaponization of a red flag law allowing courts to disarm gun owners found to be a risk to themselves or others by creating a felony penalty for making false reports.  

Another pair of amendments to a universal background check bill adds a requirement to notify U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office if a would-be gun buyer fails a background check because of their immigration status.

Adam Garber, executive director of the anti-gun violence group CeaseFirePA, said it was momentous that a package of gun safety bills had advanced to the House floor after more than a decade in which a Republican majority blocked gun law reforms.  

“What I think you saw today is some Republicans willing to work on real solutions to this crisis,” Garber said, adding that if House Republicans support the final versions of the laws it would signal to the Republican-controlled state Senate that there is a bipartisan path forward. 

The House must still vote on the bills in a final consideration later this session before they can be sent to the Senate. 

“I think we all can recognize that we can’t keep losing 1,900 people a year to this crisis. That’s an unacceptable status quo,” Garber said.

Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee unanimously opposed the bills when they were reported to the House floor last week.

“We’re discussing a slew of new laws that are going to mainly and almost exclusively affect citizens that are already law-abiding gun owners because, by definition, criminals don’t really follow the law,” Rep. David Rowe, R-Union, said during debate in the committee.

Two of the bills would require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns and securely store rifles and shotguns using a device to keep them from being fired when not in use. Another bill would extend the requirement for background checks to private sales of rifles and shotguns.

The fourth, House Bill 1018, would create a process by which family members or law enforcement could ask a judge to hold a hearing to issue an extreme risk protection order to temporarily disarm someone who is at risk of harming themself or others.

Rep. Craig Williams, R-Delaware, said the protection order bill raises concern about due process for gun owners and whether the bill could be weaponized by a person willing to make false statements to deprive a law-abiding gun owner of their weapons.

Williams offered an amendment that would make it a third-degree felony to “intentionally or recklessly make a false statement” in the extreme risk protection order process.

The amendment was approved with a 119-82 vote.

Rep. Ryan MacKenzie, R-Lehigh, offered two amendments to the background check bill that would require ICE and the attorney general to be notified if a person who is in the United States without permission fails a background check.

“It is illegal and a felony for somebody here in the country illegally to even possess a firearm,” MacKenzie said. “So in addition to that being reported to ICE, I think it is also important that that criminal offense be reported to the state attorney general,” he said.

The requirement to report the information to ICE passed 127-74 with strong Democratic opposition. The requirement to report to the attorney general passed with a 141-60 vote, also with many Democrats voting “no.”

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Peter Hall
Peter Hall

Peter Hall has been a journalist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for more than 20 years, most recently covering criminal justice and legal affairs for The Morning Call in Allentown. His career at local newspapers and legal business publications has taken him from school board meetings to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court and many points of interest between. He earned a degree in journalism from Susquehanna University.