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Host: Scott LaMar

State Attorney General Candidates Differ on Gun Law

Written by Richard Copeland, Producer - Smart Talk | Oct 13, 2016 12:16 PM

The two candidates for Pennsylvania State Attorney General have differing philosophies when it comes to legislating gun safety.

In 2014, state Representative Mark Keller (R-Perry County) sponsored legislation that allowed the National Rifle Association to sue municipalities and counties that passed gun safety laws that superseded the laws set forth by the state.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled the law unconstitutional and struck it down.   The court's 7-0 decision was based on a procedural error in the bill's passage, not its content.

Keller has recently re-introduced similar legislation that would allow individuals to seek financial backing from groups, like the NRA, when suing localities enacting gun laws that gun owners feel violate their Second Amendment rights.

Pennsylvania State Senator John Rafferty, a Republican representing parts of Berks, Chester and Montgomery Counties, is running for State Attorney General against Josh Shapiro, a former Democratic State Representative from Abington and Upper Dublin Townships.  Rafferty does not support the idea that municipalities and counties should be able to pass their own gun laws.

"Whatever the laws are throughout the Commonwealth, they should be consistent throughout all 67 counties," he said.   "If that's going to happen, then the legislature would have to take up that initiative and the legislature would have to pass it to get it to the governor for his signature."

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John Rafferty, Republican Candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney General

Rafferty feels allowing localities to pass their own laws regarding gun safety circumvents the efforts of the state to govern.  "In Pennsylvania . . .  you do the legislation, you pass the laws that are for the betterment of all the people of Pennsylvania, protection of all the people of Pennsylvania, not one section or one county should be carved out," he said.  "If that's the way it should be, we should just have where the money is raised stay in that area for the funding of everything.  But that's not the way the Commonwealth works."

When asked by Scott LaMar on WITF's Smart Talk what would make cities and counties safer from gun violence if current state legislation wasn't working, Rafferty pointed to the Philadelphia District Attorney's Gun Violence Task Force as an effective enforcement agency.  "The Gun Violence Task Force will help in those situations in a coordinated effort with law enforcement in intel . . . I think that you have to look at the entire Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and say 'what's best for the Commonwealth moving forward.'"

Rafferty's opponent, Josh Shapiro, supports the rights of municipalities and counties to pass gun safety laws tailored to their region.  He is skeptical of Rafferty's support for the law.  "I don't think we can trust him to stand up to the gun lobby and make communities in Harrisburg and other communities across Pennsylvania safer."

Regardless of his personal feelings about the law, Shapiro acknowledges that his role as Attorney General would restrict him from injecting his views regarding gun legislation.  "It is my job to enforce the law, as Attorney General, not to make the law.  And there are many laws on the books that I would disagree with.  But it would be my job to go out and defend them, whether I agree or disagree.  If the Governor and the Legislature in their wisdom pass something, and make it law, then it would be my job to defend it."

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Josh Shapiro, Democratic Candidate for Pennsylvania Attorney General

Shapiro spoke of his support for the 2nd Amendment, saying " . . . I go to gun clubs, shooting with family, I know that we have and believe that we have a strong heritage in Pennsylvania that for many families involve guns . . " but he also believes " . . . we can have common sense laws on the books that prevent gun violence while also protecting people's 2nd Amendment rights." 

"I certainly hope that the legislature will adopt universal background checks, and it's certainly something . . . that I would speak out in favor of," said Shapiro, but was quick to re-iterate " . . . at the end of the day, it's my job to enforce the laws, not to make them."

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