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Pennsylvania Dems Unable to Get Vote on Assault Weapons Ban

The state’s House Democrats tried, unsuccessfully, to force a vote on an assault weapons ban on May 25, following the Texas school shooting. Republicans say they are already proactive with school safety and mental health programs.

(TNS) — Pennsylvania House Democrats attempted to force a vote on an assault weapons ban Wednesday, which failed in an almost-party line vote.

House Democrats motioned Wednesday to suspend House rules and consider the assault weapons ban legislation, which was introduced by former Rep. Ed Gainey who left the House after being elected mayor of Pittsburgh.

The GOP-controlled House voted against the effort by a vote of 111-87. Reps. Chris Sainato, D- Lawrence, voted against the measure alongside Republicans, and Todd Stephens, R- Montgomery, voted with Democrats in favor of it.

House Republicans argued they have already taken a "proactive approach" through investments in school violence prevention programs, said Jason Gottesman, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Rep. Kerry Benninghoff. These programs include the Safe2Say hotline to allow students to privately report mental health or violence concerns, and Republicans' continued funding for school safety and security grants totaling $200 million.

"Ensuring safe communities here in Pennsylvania remains one of our top priorities and we are committed to a continued, productive and reasonable discussion over ways to achieve that goal," Mr. Gottesman added in his statement.

The attempt was expected to fail, since lawmakers don't typically get to ask for a bill to be voted on on the floor. Traditionally, lawmakers have to convince a committee chair to consider their bill, then get buy-in from a majority of the Republican caucus in the GOP-controlled Legislature.

Even after behind-the-scenes negotiations, it's ultimately up to House GOP leaders to decide which bills get a vote, and when that vote will occur. House leaders and GOP members have consistently opposed any gun control measures. For all of these reasons, Democrats have for years said their gun control proposals are being "held hostage."

Still, Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D- Chester, argued on the House floor that Tuesday's mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas was extraordinary, which called for extraordinary actions from lawmakers. She made the motion on Wednesday to suspend the rules.

"Enough thoughts and prayers. The Legislature has the power to do something, and we have a moral obligation," Ms. Friel Otten said in a press conference following the House session.

Senate Democrats, led by Minority Leader Sen. Jay Costa, D- Forest Hills, sent a letter to House and Senate GOP leaders, asking them to consider legislation to eliminate exceptions for background checks to purchase or transfer a firearm, so-called "red-flag laws" to allow law enforcement to remove firearms from someone who is an immediate danger to themselves or others, to require lost or stolen guns to be reported to law enforcement, and to create a centralized database to track hate groups. Two Democrats, including Sen. Jim Brewster, D- McKeesport, did not sign on to the letter.

"These are all common sense and widely supported legislative actions that we can take immediately," the senators wrote. "With Republican majority leadership in both chambers of the General Assembly, only your actions can direct our path forward."

"The reality is that today, [law enforcement] is scraping the bodies of elementary school children off of blood-stained floors, because their bodies have been mutilated by an 18-year-old with an assault weapon," Ms. Friel Otten added.

The FBI released active shooter data from 2021 on Monday, which showed a 53 percent increase in active shooter incidents over the first year of the pandemic when most people were isolating at home, and a 97 percent increase over 2017.

There were 61 active shootings in the United States in 2021. Last year, 103 people were killed and 140 people were wounded, excluding the shooters, according to the FBI data.

Last year, 60 of the shooters were males, and one was female. Shooters ranged from ages 12 through 67.

The FBI defines an active shooter as someone who attempts to kill or kills people in a populated area.

Pittsburgh Reps. Martell Covington and Emily Kinkead both noted during the press conference the everyday gun violence experienced in the state. Mr. Covington recalled a number of young people in his life who have died from gun violence, including his nephew. Ms. Kinkead remembered the two 17-year-old boys killed in a mass shooting on Pittsburgh's North Side last month.

"We are failing our kids and what frustrates me is that the deaths of Jaiden [Brown] and Matthew [Steffy-Ross] were, in large part, shrugged off," Ms. Kinkead said. "We justify why it is that some people deserved what they got, and it is never OK."

(c)2022 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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