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Wolf adds to mounting veto tally, kills permitless-gun bill

  • Marc Levy/The Associated Press
  • Sam Dunklau
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf pauses while speaking during a rally at Sharon Baptist Church, Friday, July 9, 2021, in Philadelphia.

Matt Slocum / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf pauses while speaking during a rally at Sharon Baptist Church, Friday, July 9, 2021, in Philadelphia.

(Harrisburg) — Gov. Tom Wolf followed through on his veto threat Thursday, rejecting Republican-penned legislation to allow people to carry a firearm openly or concealed, without a permit, adding to his total for Pennsylvania’s chief executive with the most vetoes in more than four decades.

Wolf, a Democrat, called the bill “dangerous.” Wolf’s veto comes amid a tide of deadly gun violence in Philadelphia, the state’s largest city, and political finger-pointing over blame.

Wolf has said it is a top priority to address what he says is a gun violence crisis affecting largely minority communities, but the Republican-controlled Legislature has largely rejected his proposals since he took office in 2015.

The bill he vetoed Thursday would have removed the requirement that gun owners get a permit to carry a gun that is concealed, such as under clothing or in their vehicle’s glove box. It also would have wiped out a law, applying only to Philadelphia, that requires gun owners to get a permit to openly carry a firearm in the city.

Pennsylvanians otherwise are generally allowed to openly carry loaded firearms, although the law is silent on it.

Gun violence prevention group Cease Fire PA is among those applauding Wolf’s veto. Executive Director Adam Garber said the state’s current concealed carry licensing process — which involves police conducting a background check for a fee — should be made tougher.

“So we can give law enforcement more ability [to make sure] people who are carrying hidden firearms…in public are not going to endanger people’s lives,” he said.

Most states require some kind of firearms training before allowing gun owners to hide them in public. Some require training with live ammunition. Pennsylvania does not require either.

Sen. Cris Dush (R-Cameron County), the bill’s sponsor, said the move has support in his district.

“People have told me and people that I know that they would like to have the ability to defend themselves and that they don’t necessarily want the bad guy knowing that they’re armed,” Dush said. “People are moving more and more to the idea that they should be able to defend themselves.”

The senator held up as an example a shooting incident at a Lancaster County mall earlier this year that ended when a man carrying a concealed firearm intervened. He suggested if people were allowed to do that without having to wait for a permit, they could help deter more crimes. Broadly speaking, some research contests that claim.

West Virginia began allowing those 21 and older to carry without a permit a few years ago. Despite an initial drop, according to FBI data, violent crime has increased there in the last two years.

Another peer-reviewed study from 2017 suggested states that issue concealed carry permits to anyone who meets minimum requirements have “significantly higher rates of total, firearm-related, and handgun-related homicide.”

According to online state records, Wolf has penned his 52nd veto with 13 months left in his second term, more than any other governor since Milton Shapp, who left office in 1979. Wolf has passed Democrat Robert P. Casey, who compiled 50 vetoes.

The Legislature has never overridden a Wolf veto, with Democrats protecting Wolf and preventing Republicans from gathering the necessary two-thirds majorities in both chambers.

Republicans blame Wolf’s mounting stack of vetoes for what they say is failing to engage with lawmakers, compromise or negotiate.

Friction over the governor’s broad use of executive authority to respond to the pandemic has played a role, with Wolf taking a veto pen to about a dozen COVID-19-related bills passed by lawmakers.

“This governor hasn’t figured out how to work with the Legislature,” Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Centre, said last month.

The result, Corman and others say, has been for the sides to seek alternatives to lawmaking.

The governor has often taken action through executive order or drafting regulations, and lawmakers taking action through drafting proposals to amend the state constitution. Those can’t be vetoed by Wolf.

Republican lawmakers now are trying, through proposals to amend the constitution, to give them more control over a governor’s powers to make permanent policy through regulation or executive order.

One would strip the authority of a governor to veto a resolution passed by lawmakers to block a proposed regulation. Currently, the governor can veto such a resolution.

The other would limit the effect of an executive order to 21 days, unless lawmakers agree to extend it.

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