Wolf should call session on violence

21 Aug 2019 | 02:38

(AP) Even now, with blood from the most recent mass murders in California, Texas and Ohio fresh on the streets, and continuous gun violence afflicting major cities including Philadelphia, some politicians remain reluctant to convert their allegiance from gun rights absolutists to the cause of public safety.

Remarkably, Republican state Sen. Lisa Baker of Luzerne County, chairwoman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has counseled a deliberate pace for legislation to begin reducing gun violence.

She praised a new law that better protects domestic violence victims by requiring their abusers to relinquish their guns pending the completion of court proceedings. But her caucus has a deplorable record, over a very long period, of killing numerous initiatives that would help to reduce the carnage without stifling anyone's right to legitimate gun ownership. When 22 municipal governments around the state adopted ordinances requiring people to report lost or stolen guns to police — a measure aimed at reducing illegal arms sales to criminals — legislative Republicans passed a law granting legal standing to gun rights activists to sue and for the municipal governments to pay their legal expenses.

As of last Wednesday, the 219 day of 2019, there had been 255 mass shootings nationwide. And the definition holds a mass shooting to be when at least four people are wounded or killed. Those mass shootings alone killed 275 people and wounded more than 1,000.

A dozen of those mass shootings occurred in Pennsylvania, including four in Philadelphia, and others in Clairton, Allentown, Uniontown, Lebanon and elsewhere.

Baker advocated a schedule of hearings and the deliberate collection of evidence. Well, here's some: Connor Betts, using a semiautomatic assault-style rifle equipped with a 100-round drum magazine, killed nine people and wounded 27 others in 32 seconds early Sunday morning in Dayton, Ohio. The toll would have been worse if police, who quickly responded and shot Betts, had not happened to be nearby.

No valid reasons for access

No hearings are necessary to conclude that the weapon and the magazine that Betts used have no valid purpose. They repeatedly have been used to slaughter schoolchildren, festivalgoers, worshipers, shoppers, movie patrons and anyone else who happens to be in the way.

Yet many state lawmakers still lack the courage to stand up to their patrons in the gun lobby by banning those weapons.

They're not alone. President Donald Trump, who claimed recently that Article 2 of Constitution provides him with the authority to do whatever he wants to do, won't try to prove that the pen is mightier than the gun lobby by issuing one of his famed executive orders to ban assault weapons. He said he doesn't detect the “political appetite" for an assault weapons ban.

Republican U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey deserves great credit for breaking ranks to promote universal background checks and a “red flag" law that would make it easier to seize weapons from demonstrably dangerous people. But he, too, has shied from an assault weapons ban.

There is much that Congress and state lawmakers can do to begin altering the absolutist gun culture and making public safety an equal consideration. Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have introduced a bill that would provide enforcement grants to states that adopt stringent red flag laws. And the Senate finally should approve Toomey's universal background check proposal.

At the state level, Gov. Tom Wolf should call a legislative special session on gun violence with an agenda that includes an assault-style weapons ban, universal background checks, a stringent red flag law, mandatory reporting of lost or stolen weapons and a cap on monthly gun purchases to thwart straw purchases for criminals.

The Citizens' Voice