After shootings in Colorado and Georgia, gun rights proponents and gun control advocates clash in Pa.

  • Ivey DeJesus/PennLive
  • Jan Murphy/PennLive

(Harrisburg) — One day after the seventh mass shooting in the U.S. in a week, gun control advocates and gun rights proponents in Pennsylvania clashed over the debate over the immediate calls for stricter laws to stem the tide of gun violence and deaths.

At a forum of gun violence survivors, advocates and gun owners, Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro called on legislative changes to restrict gun laws and implement common sense solutions to end gun violence.

“Gun violence is a scourge across Pennsylvania and across our nation and the mass shooting that took place yesterday in Colorado is another tragic reminder that we can’t wait to enact legislation that changes the narrative that there is nothing to be done,” said Wolf, a Democrat and ardent gun control advocate. “There is, and it involves making changes now. We can no longer wait to pass laws to reduce gun violence.”

Meanwhile, Second Amendment rights proponents pushed back on such calls, excoriating gun control advocates for what they said was seizing a national tragedy to push their agenda.

“Calling the capitalization of the tragedy in Boulder and Atlanta as a call for more gun control is not only preposterous, it’s unethical and immoral,” said Kim Stolfer, president of the Pennsylvania chapter of Firearms Owners Against Crime. “Every time something happens they look at the instrumentality but not the nuance and the issue.”

2nd Amendment Rally attendees carry guns and signs on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg, Pa., on September 29, 2020.

Kate Landis / WITF

FILE PHOTO: 2nd Amendment Rally attendees carry guns and signs on the Capitol steps in Harrisburg, Pa., on September 29, 2020.

In Boulder, Colo. Monday, a gunman armed with an assault rifle fatally shot 10 people, including a police officer, at a supermarket, authorities said. Police say the 21-year-old suspect, who is in hospital and police custody, bought the assault rifle on March 16, six days before the shooting.

The deadly rampage comes one week after the mass shooting in the Atlanta area that left eight people dead, including six Asian Americans.

Wolf and Shapiro were joined by other advocates, including members of CeaseFirePA, which presented three legislative solutions to what the organization considers a public health crisis. These include:

  • Creating Extreme Risk Protection Orders as a means to temporarily remove firearms from someone who wants to hurt themselves or others.
  • Reporting lost or stolen firearms within 72 hours, helping cut community violence.
  • Closing the gaps in Pennsylvania’s background check system to prevent the purchase of military-style rifles from a private, non-licensed seller.

Adam Garber from CeaseFirePA said community violence has turned neighborhoods into war zones “as people try to do the most things whether it was grocery shopping or going to the park.”

Nearly three quarters of homicides in Pennsylvania involve firearms and more than half of all suicides in Pennsylvania involve firearms.

Gun rights advocates, however, pushed back against any and all calls for expanding legislative restrictions on gun rights.

‘Enforce existing laws’

Harold Daub, executive director of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen and Conservationists, stressed that his organization, which represents roughly 70,000 bipartisan members, opposes any law meant to restrict Second Amendment rights.

“As an organization PFSC continues to support the Second Amendment and support the U.S. and Pennsylvania constitution relative to Second Amendment rights,” he said. “We would request that legislators continue to enforce existing laws. It seems a lot of mass shootings occur in gun free zones and are perpetrated by those not properly licensed or properly authorized to own guns in the first place.”

Daub said current laws are not being enforced even as nationwide mental health resources and protocol are being ignored, leading to mentally unstable individuals getting their hands on guns. Daub said the organization does not advocate restricting gun sales to anyone – even someone with mental illness.

“If they did not have access to a gun, they would find another way to do harm,” Daub said. “We need to find a way to enforce the current laws on the books and keep these types of criminals off the streets and our communities safe. I firmly believe that mass shootings would have ended sooner if a properly licensed gun owner was present at the time of the shooting. The fact is guns save more lives than they take. Unfortunately you don’t hear about when guns are used to stop crime versus commit crimes.”

Pennsylvania law prohibits the sale of firearms to individuals who are being treated for mental health conditions.

Stolfer faulted gun control advocates for spreading misinformation and lawmakers for not doing their job to enforce laws already on the books.

“We won’t be a part of this anymore. There is no more compromise,” he said. “If you are not going to do your job, don’t you dare come to law abiding citizens and say we have to sacrifice our rights or that you want to take advantage of a tragic situation.”

Boulder police officer Eric Talley was among the 10 people killed on Monday in Boulder. Talley, 51, a father of seven, was among the first responders to run in the door when the gunman opened fire inside the grocery store.

A woman leaves a bouquet of flowers next to a police cruiser parked outside the Boulder Police Department after an officer was one of the victims of a mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery store Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.

David Zalubowski / AP Photo

A woman leaves a bouquet of flowers next to a police cruiser parked outside the Boulder Police Department after an officer was one of the victims of a mass shooting at a King Soopers grocery store Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in Boulder, Colo.

Seeking more than ‘thoughts and prayers’

With a Republican-led Legislature in Pennsylvania, any attempt to restrict gun owners’ rights has — now as in the past — little chance of gaining traction.

Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) is working on legislation that would ban military-grade weapons and accessories, but he has expressed concern that the bill will go nowhere in the General Assembly.

“We don’t even have common-sense gun laws,” Street said in a report by ABC-6 in Philadelphia.

Another pending bill recently re-introduced, Senate Bill 217 would require people to report lost or stolen handguns.

Stolfer said such a measure would have little to no impact on gun violence.

“It victimizes people who have already been victimized,” he said. “They talked about how felons should not be allowed to buy military style weapons. I know this is going to come as a shock to but that’s already illegal in the state. That’s a red herring. That’s another lie. If you have a misdemeanor 1 or higher you can’t possess or transfer a firearm.”

Rep. Malcom Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia) said legislators had a moral obligation to not look the other way when it comes to gun violence.

“We need to stop repeating the tired phrases about ‘thoughts and prayers’ and retire the useless argument about ‘criminals’ versus ‘law-abiding citizens’ and recognize it doesn’t matter whose gun the bullet comes from when it kills a child, ruins a life and devastates a family,” he said. “We need to work together to identify the steps we can take to address the problem and then take action.”

At the federal level, the Democratic-led U.S. House of Representatives passed two bills this month that would expand background checks, including one that would require checks for all sales and transfers including between private parties, at gun shows and over the Internet.

President Biden on Tuesday urged the Senate to pass the two background-check bills and for Congress to reenact an assault-weapons ban.

President Joe Biden speaks about the shooting in Boulder, Colo., Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

President Joe Biden speaks about the shooting in Boulder, Colo., Tuesday, March 23, 2021, in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington.

The House plan is more robust than the bipartisan plan proposed by Pennsylvania’s Republican Sen. Pat Toomey in 2013 in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre. Toomey’s plan, co-authored by Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, was opposed by the National Rifle Association and nixed by a GOP-led filibuster.

“I don’t trust any legislators based on the letter in parentheses after their name,” Daub said. “We judge legislation on the words found within, not the author.”

‘Common sense solutions can save lives’

Gun violence survivor Carol Lastowka said gun safety and gun ownership are critical to get beyond the current impasse on guns. Although a hunter and a gun owner, Lastowka said guns had had little positive impact on her life or the lives of those around her.

“Guns are part of my family, my life and my history, they always will be but I wish I never had to experience the tragic destruction firearms have wreaked on my loved ones,” she said. “I know as a gun owner that common sense solutions can save lives and continue to allow me to hunt.”

She has lost several friends, and including a cousin, to gun violence and gun accidents.

Lastowka said the three pieces of legislation being pushed by CeaseFire PA would have likely saved the lives of some of her loved ones.

“As a gun owner, I’m confident that these actions will not impinge on my ability to hunt but they will make Pennsylvania a safer place to go to school, to work and to live,” she said.

Shapiro recently helped secure an agreement with the largest gun show promoter in Pennsylvania to ban ghost guns at gun shows. He called for officials to take action to curb violence.

Josh Shapiro

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.

“It does not have to be this way,” he said. “It’s time to stop pretending that those of you who are hiding behind the Second Amendment that that allows criminals to somehow skirt our laws and make firearms at home. It’s time to stop complaining about cities and towns being violent but not stepping up with a solution to address this crisis.”

Ghost guns are untraceable self-assembled gun kits, often, Shapiro said, purchased by the “duffle bag-load online and at gun shows” without a background check.

Shapiro said he is working with President Biden’s administration to regulate these firearms and require a background check.

Stolfer and Daub both said empowering people with guns to protect themselves rather than restrict ownership was one solution to the problem.

“We feel awful when somebody uses a gun like this to break the law and take lives just as we do towards those who drive a motor car irresponsibly and take a person’s life,” Daub said. “But we won’t ever take a stand on the side of perceived fear weakening our support of the Second Amendment.”


This story originally appeared at pennlive.com.

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