Washington lawmakers are forging ahead toward possible gun violence legislation, and two Pennsylvania Republicans are at the center of the effort.
A group of bipartisan lawmakers led by U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey found common ground on gun control legislation that stands a chance of passing the Senate. Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters 10 Republicans were “on board in principle” with a deal that could break through a GOP-led filibuster that stalled previous attempts.
“I do think it’s more likely than not that we will get something done in the Senate,” Toomey said last week.
Lawmakers involved in the negotiations said the measure provides “needed mental health resources, improves school safety and support for students, and helps ensure dangerous criminals and those who are adjudicated as mentally ill can’t purchase weapons.”
His comments came after the House passed a wide-ranging package of gun safety bills, called the Protecting Our Kids Act, in a 223-204 vote. It followed a tense hearing where victims of recent gun massacres across the U.S. urged lawmakers to take action.
The bills would raise the minimum age for purchasing semi-automatic rifles from 18 to 21, ban high-capacity magazines, require a registry for bump stocks, and tighten federal firearms regulations to apply to so-called “ghost guns,” which are manufactured without serial numbers by private citizens.
It would also create tax incentives for sales of safe storage devices and add criminal penalties for those who violate gun storage regulations at their residences.
Among the five Republicans voting for the package was Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Bucks). He said that while the legislation was “far from perfect,” it was a “necessary step” to put pressure on the Senate to adopt a bipartisan proposal in the wake of mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas, Buffalo, N.Y., and Tulsa, Okla.
Fitzpatrick said e supports Americans’ Second Amendment right to own guns but added there was “no higher responsibility” for lawmakers than protecting children from gun mayhem.
“Our policies should support responsible gun ownership. We must protect mentally healthy, law-abiding citizens’ right to protect and defend themselves, their families, their homes, and their communities, and we must also prevent mentally ill individuals and criminals from gaining access to firearms and causing harm to others. If we’re going to stop the violence plaguing our nation, we must all accept these basic premises,” he said.
The National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action said the House package threatened to “turn millions of law-abiding gun owners into felons.”
“This unconstitutional legislation would extinguish law-abiding adults’ Second Amendment rights and contends that these individuals are responsible enough to defend their country or vote in an election, but cannot be trusted to follow the law,” the group wrote on its website.
The Toomey-backed legislation, still being debated among the bipartisan group of senators, doesn’t go as far as the House package. But it would provide for an enhanced review process for buyers under age 21 and penalties for straw purchases, CNN reported.
The review process would include an “investigative period to review juvenile and mental health records, including checks with state databases and local law enforcement.”
The proposal calls for support for crisis intervention and funding for school safety resources, a key point of contention among Republicans who accused Democrats of seizing on tragedies to push forward more restrictive gun laws.
Meanwhile, Delaware Valley Democrats at the state level are pushing for further gun restrictions. Sate Sen. Steven Santarsiero (D-Bucks) proposed legislation that would ban military-style weapons in the Keystone State.
He told reporters at a news conference in Lower Makefield Township that the measure was modeled after a 2013 Connecticut law that banned high-capacity magazines and provided a voluntary buyback program for gun owners.
“Military-style weapons have no place in civilian society,” Santarsiero said. “Easy access to assault weapons is one of the greatest threats to the health and safety of Pennsylvanians.”