Gun Reform Bills Set to Pass Pennsylvania House This Month

FILE PHOTO: Semi-automatic handguns are displayed at shop in New Castle, PA. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

By Sean Kitchen

May 12, 2023

Democrats are ready to advance a packet of gun reform bills once the House returns to session later this month. The safety measures include reporting lost and stolen guns, expanding background checks, safety storage requirements and a red flag law.

A packet of gun reform bills are poised to clear the Pennsylvania House and advance to the Senate after legislators return to Harrisburg on May 22. House Democrats are advancing safety  measures that include reporting lost or stolen guns, expanding background checks, safety storage requirements and red flag laws.

Gun safety reforms faced opposition from Republicans over the past decade, who did little to advance legislation out of the House, but after retaking the chamber for the first time since 2009, Democrats included it in their spring agenda along with passing the Fairness Act and other issues. 

House Democrats and the Judiciary Committee held one of the first hearings on preventing gun violence last March and sent the packet of gun reforms to the House floor at the end of April.  

Under HB 338 gun owners would have 72 hours to report a stolen or missing gun. The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Ben Sanchez (D-Montgomery), stated in committee that 21 guns go missing or stolen in Pennsylvania everyday and that this bill seeks to reduce the amount of straw purchases. HB 714 would require universal background checks on all gun purchases and remove the exemptions for rifles and HB 731 would require all guns sold in Pennsylvania to have locking devices.

Lastly, HB 1018, commonly referred to as a red-flag law, would allow family members or law enforcement to ask the courts to issue extreme risk protection orders and temporarily remove firearms from someone who is at risk to themselves or others. 

At a committee meeting in April, Rep. Jen O’Mara, the bill’s prime sponsor, explained how she has been working on red flag legislation since getting elected in 2018. O’Mara lost her father to gun suicide as a teenager and told the committee that the legislation “is about making sure there are protections in place to prevent someone who is in crisis from hurting themselves or others. It’s about making sure that one more person doesn’t die by suicide.”  

September 2018 was the last time the House passed a bill restricting access to firearms, but as WHYY reported, House Bill 2060, which made it harder for domestic abuses to possess guns, advanced and became law because it was framed as a domestic violence issue. The bill was one of at least a dozen introduced that session to address gun violence and it was the only one to receive a vote under the then-GOP majority that year.

In 2019, the Penn Capital Star reported on an incident that highlighted the House Republicans’ obstructionism on gun reform. Former Judiciary Chairman Rob Kauffman referred to himself in the third person promising to never consider red flag laws as long as he remained chair of the committee. During the 2021-2022 legislative session, the committee refused to move 23 bills addressing gun safety.        

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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