WILKES-BARRE — At a news conference Monday, Gov. Tom Wolf, joined by Acting State Police Commissioner Lt. Col. Robert Evanchick, legislators and stakeholders, urged passage of commonsense gun safety legislation, including background checks on all gun purchases in Pennsylvania.
“All of Pennsylvania’s citizens have the right to live happy, healthy lives free from fear about their and their family’s personal safety,” Wolf said. “Unfortunately, in the past decades we have seen that sense of security, that sense of safety, threatened. I am calling on the legislature to take up additional commonsense gun reform bills that will help us close dangerous loopholes and keep weapons out of the hands of individuals who pose a threat to Pennsylvania’s citizens.
Wolf asked the Legislature to pass a measure expanding background checks on firearms in Pennsylvania and end an exception for shotguns, sporting rifles and semi-automatic rifles that are sold at gun shows.
Currently, background checks cover all sales of handguns, except for transfers within families.
Wolf said legislation should be passed that requires all those who wish to purchase a firearm to go through a State Police background check — he said universal background checks are one of the best ways we can keep weapons out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
“In the commonwealth, a firearms transaction between two private parties does not require a background check if the firearm falls within certain criteria (these firearms are commonly referred to as long guns),” Evanchick said. “It is this void in the current law we are in support of changing. The Pennsylvania State Police encourages closing this void in the current law and requests that all firearm purchases and or transfer of ownership require a universal background check.”
The Republican-controlled Legislature has long resisted gun-control measures and appears unlikely to expand background checks or ban certain devices, such as assault-style weapons or bump stocks, despite the governor’s support. Those bills have languished in committee without action, despite bipartisan support.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, said people have a right to protect themselves, their families and their property.
“I own guns and target shoot,” Pashinski said. “To be clear, I am not trying to take anyone’s gun away from them, However, there should be a national and state registry, a communications system that is easily accessible to law enforcement and gun dealers before people can purchase a gun.”
Pashinski said an ID must be shown when purchasing a wide variety of items, so why not guns.
“We need common-sense provisions to help law enforcement keep us safe and help prevent future tragedies,” Pashinski said. “Appropriate background checks, waiting periods, and age requirements are simple common-sense things to do in an effort make our lives safer and the proper background check help to discover criminal and mental health problems that are generally linked to gun violence.”
That said, Pashinski added that there is no one law or set of laws that will prevent every tragedy.
“But as government officials, we must try to protect people by initiating regulations and laws to keep Americans as safe as possible,” he said.
Pashinski said traffic laws have been passed and traffic devices installed to try to prevent accidents and deaths. He said the traffic light and the stop sign have prevented incalculable accidents, injuries and deaths.
“But those devices have not prevented every accident or death from occurring,” Pashinski said.
The House is eyeing similar measures, including one that would create an “extreme risk protection order” that allows a law enforcement officer, a family member, or a household member to petition a judge to order the immediate, if temporary seizure of someone’s firearms.
The governor also urged the House to quickly pass Senate Bill 501, which the Senate recently unanimously passed, and which prevents domestic abusers with protection from abuse orders against them from owning or possessing guns.
“I ask that the House work to quickly pass SB 501, and that the full legislature get to work to help close loopholes and pass reasonable gun safety reform laws,” Gov. Wolf said.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle. The Associated Press contributed to this report.