New Castle News

April 15, 2013

State attorney general calls for vote on gun bill

John Finnerty

CNHI — Pennsylvania’s attorney general and some Democratic state lawmakers have called for a vote on a gun sales bill.

The House bill would expand background checks to include all gun sales in the state.

But even the author of the bill, Rep. Steve Santasiero, D-Bucks County, has little faith that the bill would pass. It is unlikely to even come up for a vote, Santasiero said.

Santasiero’s bill essentially mirrors legislation under consideration in the U.S. Senate. Santasiero is calling for action in Pennsylvania because it is unclear whether the Senate compromise bill, championed by Sen. Pat Toomey, would be passed in the U.S. House. Also, Santasiero thinks there should be a vote so that his peers must stake out public positions on the issue.

“I doubt they even have the support in their own caucus (House Democrats),” said Rep. Dick Stevenson, R-Mercer County. “If there is not the support to pass it, it seems pointless to ask for a vote.”

Stevenson said it is unclear how effective background checks really are. Such checks do not necessarily prevent weapons from being sold to relatives of people with criminal records or mental illness. In the Newtown shootings, the killer, Adam Lanza, reportedly attempted to buy a firearm but did not get the weapon because he did not want to wait 14 days for a background check. Lanza used weapons taken from his mother.

But even among ardent supporters of gun rights, there are some who have signaled willingness to consider language that would expand background checks.

Rep. Fred Keller, R-Union County, co-sponsored legislation, authored by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe R-Butler County, that would direct state employees to defy any federal laws regarding increased gun control. Keller said he is not sure that the measure would cover background checks, particularly if the background checks become law first. Keller said he is most opposed to any proposal that would limit the kind of firearms available to the public.

Toomey’s move to lead the call for compromise prompted Metcalfe to gather the signatures of 75 other Republican House members on a letter criticizing the senator.  

In Pennsylvania, expanding background checks would only impact the private sale — including sales at gun shows and at auctions — of long guns. All sales involving handguns in Pennsylvania require a background check. All sales of firearms at licensed dealers are preceded by background checks.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane said it makes no sense to have background checks for one type of firearm and not all firearms.

“They all shoot bullets,” she said. “They all can kill children.”

Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Cambria County, said that universal background checks would make sense by “leveling the playing field.”

Haluska added that another worthwhile reform would involve reviewing patient privacy rules to determine if there is a way to allow medical professionals to warn police if a psychiatric patient is expressing thoughts of violence.

Rep. Chris Sainato, D-Union Township, said that he was unfamiliar with the exact language in Santasiero’s bill.

“They may not have approached me about it because they thought I would not support it,” he said.

Sainato and Haluska are two of 14 Democrats in the state legislature who have received campaign donations from the National Rifle Association. In all, the gun lobbying organization has made doations to 58 of the 203 members of the House and Senate.

Sainato received $200 from the NRA in 2010. Haluska has received two donations from the gun group, totaling $250.

Sainato said Pennsylvania already has effective background check policies.

“I’ve never heard anyone complain about them,” he said.

Sen. Bob Robbins and Rep. Michele Brooks, who represent parts of Lawrence County, have received $7,000 and $800 respectively from the NRA.