The battle over gun policy in the Pennsylvania legislature continued this week as the House Judiciary Committee’s Republican majority again quashed the Democrats’ attempt to move a firearms proposal out of committee.
On a near party-line vote, the Judiciary Committee voted Monday morning to gut a Democratic bill that would prohibit the possession of assault weapons by persons under age 21, and instead replaced the bill’s text with language that would allow for concealed carry of a firearm without a permit – a policy that Republicans have previously passed but has been vetoed by Gov. Tom Wolf.
That kind of move deserves long, slow, sustained applause, complete with a standing ovation.
Democrats in the state legislature, meanwhile, are getting very desperate:
Democrats have turned to discharge resolutions, a parliamentary maneuver, in an effort to get gun violence bills out of Judiciary, where Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, has prevented them from advancing.
Last week, the committee voted to ask the speaker to send four other gun bills to another committee, effectively stopping action on proposals regarding safe gun storage, an assault weapons ban, a red flag bill and a measure to give local governments power to enact their own protections.
Democrats also portrayed their measure as a compromise, given that a bill to enact an assault weapons ban similar to the 1994 federal law was similarly waylaid by the Judiciary Committee majority last week which referred it to another committee.
“I would love to hear from my colleagues across the aisle about what they don’t like about this bill and how we can reach compromise,” said Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-Chester/Montgomery. “It’s different when you go ahead and you gut and bill and you change the bill’s intent. We should not be doing that.”
In a redux of last week’s committee meeting, Democrats’ push for discussion rendered no results from the GOP side, with committee chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, providing no rationale for the change before calling a vote on the “gut-and-replace” amendment.
Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, the author of a red flag law proposal that has been supported by Democrats, was the only GOP committee member to vote against the amendment.
Approached by reporters following Monday’s meeting, Kauffman said “no thank you” and walked away.
Since 2019, Kauffman has declined to allow for discussion on gun control measures in his committee, something which both Democratic and Republican rank-and-file lawmakers don’t expect to change.
“Our approach has been enforcing the laws we have on the books now and attacking some of the mental health issues in our society,” Rep. Torren Ecker, R-Adams/Cumberland, said after the meeting – a position that has been echoed throughout the House GOP caucus.
The bill to raise the age minimum for certain firearms was the fifth discharge attempt by House Democrats that has been tanked by Republicans; last week’s re-referral vote waylaid discharge attempts on an assault weapons ban, a safe storage bill requiring locks or locked containers for firearms, a bill that would expand the powers of local governments to institute gun restrictions, as well as Stephens’ red flag bill that would allow a court to temporarily confiscate a person’s firearms under an emergency adjudication if the person is deemed to be a threat.
Democrats said additional discharge attempts are possible this week in the House as well as in the Senate, where Republicans last week voted down a discharge resolution on red flag legislation.