Pennsylvania Democrats Demand Votes on Gun Safety Bills in State Senate

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis (CREDIT: PA House of Representatives)

By Sean Kitchen

June 6, 2023

Lawmakers who have been personally affected by gun violence spoke at Monday’s press conference, urging Republicans to implement universal background checks and a red flag law to address Pennsylvania’s gun violence crisis.

Lt. Gov. Austin Davis and Democrats in the Pennsylvania state Senate held a press conference Monday to raise awareness for Gun Safety Awareness Month and urge Senate Republicans to take up gun safety measures that passed the state House in May.

House Democrats passed a pair of gun safety bills last month to implement universal background checks—which would close the gun show loophole—and extreme risk protection orders, which are commonly referred to as “red flag” laws. Such a law would allow family members or police officers to apply for a court order to temporarily take firearms from an individual who is deemed a threat to themselves or others.

The Republican-controlled state Senate has thus far refused to consider either bill. 

Davis, who is from McKeesport in Western Pennsylvania, explained that he got involved in politics 15 years ago after a shooting occurred on his block. He then took the time to speak about Sean Slugnaski, a McKeesport officer who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year while responding to a call of a man suffering from a mental health crisis. 

“That police officer would be alive today if [an] extreme risk protection order was on the books here in Pennsylvania,” Davis said. 

The House version of the bill to implement a red flag law was introduced by Rep. Jen O’Mara (D-Delaware), who lost her father to suicide.  

After the passage, O’Mara spoke about losing her father at 13 and the stigma that came along after her father’s passing. 

“Addressing gun violence and mental health problems head on like this bill can help ensure that another kid doesn’t have to grow up the way that I did,” O’Mara said last month.

Senators who have been personally affected by gun violence also spoke at Monday’s press conference. 

Sen. Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) dedicated his comments to his staffers who lost their spouses or children to gun violence and to his wife who lost her nephew, Salahaldin Mahmoud, in a mass shooting on July 4, 2021. The shooter fired over 100 shots into a crowd hitting five people and killing two, including Mahmoud.

“The killing, the murders need to stop. It’s now the leading cause of death among young people,” Street said.

Senate Judiciary Chairman Steve Santarsiero (D-Philadelphia) used his time to ask why Senate Republicans are afraid to bring universal background checks and the extreme risk protection legislation up for a vote. He then went further, demanding a ban on assault weapons.

“We also have to pass a ban on assault weapons that have no place in our communities. So we have a lot of work to do but this is an important first step.” 


  • 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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