A growing chorus of local officials are calling on state and federal lawmakers to enact mental health and gun control reforms in the wake of last week's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
"It's complicated," Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey said yesterday. "You've got mental health issues involved, you've got gun control issues involved – you've got a variety of things that need to be looked at if we're going to do all we can to keep our communities safe."
Ramsey was one of the city's law enforcement officials that this summer testified in favor of Pennsylvania House Bill 2331. The legislation introduced by state Rep. Todd Stephens (R–Montgomery) would have instituted a mandatory minimum sentence of five years for those caught illegally carrying firearms and classified a second illegal gun charge as a crime of violence.
A state Senate committee in September removed those provisions. "In light of what happened in Newtown, as well as other tragedies we've had, I would hope that they would rethink that," Ramsey said. "We need legislation, but it has to have some teeth in it, and very little discretion on the part of judges, in my opinion. People who illegally carry or use a firearm to commit a crime, there needs to be very, very serious consequences and I actually think five years is lenient."
Though the bill did not go up for a vote during this year's legislative calendar, Stephens said he will reintroduce it and expects it to pass next year. "It came out of the House 190-7, so there was overwhelming support for it in the last session," he said. "I haven't heard anything to suggest less support moving forward."
Stephens also said he'll introduce legislation targeting another issue that has become a hot topic over the past week. "I have another bill that I actually circulated a memo on yesterday that would require Pennsylvania to send all of our mental health records to the National Instant Background Check Database."
The reform is crucial, according to Ramsey. "If an individual applies to get a gun, we need to be able to look back into their history including any medical records they may have that could make a determination if that person has had issues in the past and it's possible that perhaps they shouldn't have a firearm," he said.
He said he hopes the current rhetoric translates into real action. "Let's see whether or not our legislators are still talking about this and moving on it in March and April," he said. "Right now the tragedy just occurred, everybody's saying the right things, but will they be saying those things three or four months from now? That's the key."
State Sen. Daylin Leach (D–Montgomery/Delaware) also announced planned legislation – one bill aimed at dissuading straw purchasers by limiting gun sales to one per person each month, and one bill requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours.
"I know there are some individuals and groups that oppose any legislation with the word 'gun' in it," he said in a statement. "But it is well past time for this sort of extremism."
Mayors sign on
Nutter and other officials who signed the U.S. Conference of Mayors letter specifically called for President Barack Obama and Congress to:
– Outlaw assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. A ban introduced by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D–Calif) was formerly in place, but expired in 2008. Feinstein said she will reintroduce it this year.
– Eliminate loopholes in the national background check system
– Toughen penalties for straw gun purchasers.
– Establish a bipartisan commission to investigate more broadly the frequent violence endemic to this country's society.
Corbett: Pa. gun laws already 'among best in nation'
gun laws are among the best in the nation," said Janet Kelley, Deputy Director of Communications for Gov.
Tom Corbett. "Sadly, no law can prevent
the actions of a deeply disturbed individual intent on committing such
Kelley also noted Corbett's work as Attorney General, during which he formed a Gun Violence Task Force to target firearms trafficking and straw purchasers and helped schools create safety programs with local law enforcement.