A Bucks County state senator wants to codify a ban on “assault weapons” in Pennsylvania law for the second time in less than 12 months.
Sen. Steve Santarsiero, along with Sen. John Kane (D-Delaware/Chester), wrote in a co-sponsorship memo last week they were planning “to introduce legislation that would enact an assault weapons ban in Pennsylvania.”
“Our bill would mirror language that is very similar to what was enacted in Connecticut after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which is considered to be some of the toughest in the nation,” the senators said.
Neither senator responded to queries seeking more information on the proposal, including whether or not the Democratic legislators expect any constitutional challenges to the bill at the state and federal levels. The measure, which is unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled Senate, would ban “more than 150 gun models” as well as “the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds.”
Chris Dorr, director of the Pennsylvania Firearms Association, called the new bill a “straight-up effort to disarm their political opponents.”
“It is unconstitutional, it’s a violation of Pennsylvania’s constitution, and the Pennsylvania Firearms Association will aggressively prosecute supporters of this gun-grab in the court of public opinion in every election to come, especially Democrats in vulnerable districts,” he said.
This is Santarsiero’s second attempt in less than a year to pass a Pennslyvania “assault weapons” ban. Last year’s legislation died in the state Senate Judiciary Committee in June.
At the time, Santarsiero called access to so-called assault weapons “one of the greatest threats to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians.”
Adam Kraut, a Chester County native and director of the Second Amendment Foundation, told DVJournal that due to U.S. Supreme Court precedent, lawmakers in Pennsylvania would “have to dig into history” in order to justify the ban.
Kraut pointed to the 2022 Supreme Court ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, in which the high court held that any gun control passed in the U.S. must be “consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
“That’s the hurdle that the legislature is going to have the pass, by finding something in U.S. history that shows these types of firearms can, in fact, be restricted,” Kraut said.
The Pennsylvania Constitution is rare among U.S. state constitutions for having a gun ownership provision codified in the state charter since the country’s founding in 1776.
The state constitution declares citizens “have a right to bear arms for the defence [sic] of themselves and the state,” though courts have consistently permitted broad firearm regulations despite that provision.
“Assault weapons” are a popular target for lawmakers wishing to enact strict gun control regulations, though the precise definition of that class of firearms remains elusive.
Asked what guns fall under the label “assault weapon,” Jim Benoit, owner of Cajun Firearms in West Chester, said the vague term is often applied to “typically black, scary-looking rifles.”
“The definition varies state by state and seems to be a moving target,” he said. “Within the industry, the term is frowned upon, and instead, AR-15s are referred to as Modern Sporting Rifles.
“In many states, these rifles are used for hunting in addition to target/sport shooting and personal protection,” he added.
Kraut echoed that view, pointing to military guides that define “assault weapons” as those capable of fully automatic or burst-firing modes, both of which are rare among U.S. gun owners.
“I’ve never seen the gun industry refer to [sporting rifles] as ‘assault weapons,’” he said.
A 1994 federal ban on these weapons identified a broad class of brands and types of firearms with certain features, such as telescoping stocks and bayonet mounts. Santarsiero’s assault weapons ban contains similar provisions.
A Washington Post/ABC News poll released in February found most Americans oppose a national ban on so-called “assault weapons.”
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