Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
Dueling rallies from groups on either side of the guns debate filled the halls of the state Capitol Wednesday.
First to convene was the gun rights group Pennsylvania Responsible Citizens, with about 150 people standing on the Capitol steps in 15 degree Fahrenheit weather.
“Most of the people are here to exercise their Second Amendment rights, that is to keep and bear arms, and no firearms are permitted inside the Capitol,” said Bob Sklar, a Philadelphia-area firearms training instructor and emergency medicine teacher. “So it would be inappropriate to have that inside, I would imagine.”
About 10 minutes into the rally, the driver of a Home Depot semi honked the truck’s horn while passing the Capitol steps. State lawmakers followed suit, with verbal signs of support.
“We cannot rest because the liberals that want to take away your freedom will not rest,” said Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).
Sen. Tim Solobay (D-Washington), said the lack of accessible mental health care should be addressed to tamp down gun violence.
“We told a whole bunch of people – in 1998 when they started shutting down our mental healthcare facilities and trying to convert things to the outpatient services, which never got funded a proper way – someday down the road we’re going to see the impacts of what that did,” said Solobay.
Inside the Capitol, around 200 people gathered to show support for gun control measures.
Mary Beth Hacke, an Allegheny County resident and member of CeaseFire PA, said her fourteen-month-old son was killed by stray gunfire while sitting in a car seat.
“And today I’m here to tell you and to tell our governor and to tell state officials, I’m tired of watching children die,” said Hacke.
Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) said the Second Amendment right comes with responsibilities, like strengthening mental health care infrastructure, report background checks, and revisit what kind of firearms should be legal.
“It means that we need to examine reporting requirements for lost and stolen weapons. It means that we need to examine the issue of safe gun storage,” he said.
On top of the rallies were other events, like a march organized by the gun rights group, Pennsylvania Responsible Citizens, and a prayer vigil held by faith-based group, Heeding God’s Call.
Meanwhile Wednesday, a state Senate resolution to create a joint task force to study violence prevention was approved in committee and sent to the full Senate for consideration.
In a memo to his colleagues, sponsoring Sen. Stewart Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) said preventing violence like the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut would require additional gun regulations, as well as stronger mental health laws.
“[F]urther regulation of firearms is only part of the issue,” wrote Greenleaf in the memo. “Firearms are not the cause of violence; they are the instrument that is used.”
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