HARRISBURG — Several hundred gun rights protesters rallied Monday at the state Capitol, warning lawmakers against passing legislation that would tighten the state’s gun laws.
The annual rally took place with a heightened sense of urgency as gun control groups have been ratcheting up pressure on lawmakers in the wake of school shootings nationally and tragedies, such as the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, closer to home.
Speakers including state Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill, R- York County, made reference to the Tree of Life shooting and other attacks on churches and synagogues, including one on April 29 in Poway, California.
Phillips-Hill called the shootings attacks on “our rights to worship and our right to life,” but added that, “states with the strictest gun laws have not prevented attacks.”
She said gun-owners should not be “made scapegoats” as lawmakers look for ways to respond to mass shootings.
Last year, the Legislature passed and Gov. Tom Wolf signed the first new gun-control law in Pennsylvania in more than a decade. That measure is intended to get guns out of the hands of domestic abusers.
Last month, the General Assembly held its first memorial joint session of the Legislature since the 9/11 attacks to honor victims of the Tree of Life shooting in October. At the time, gun control lobbyists said they hope that anger over such attacks will motivate lawmakers to pass additional gun bills, including a so-called “Red Flag” bill. That legislation would make it easier for relatives to get a court order to take guns away from people considered a danger to themselves or others.
The governor has endorsed the red flag bill and called on the Legislature to pass it.
A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced the legislation last month.
“Governor Wolf continues to believe we can better protect Pennsylvanians by enacting additional gun safety measures. For decades, we have had reasonable limits on the right to bear arms, including on explosives and automatic weapons,” J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for the governor, said on Monday.
Fifteen other states and the District of Columbia have red flag laws in place, according to the Giffords Law Center. Those states including neighboring states — Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and New York — along with California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Florida passed its red flag law as part of that state’s response to the outcry over the Feb. 14, 2018, school shooting in Parkland.
Gun rights lobbyists say efforts the red flag laws make it too easy to take guns away from people and creates situations that force gun owners to prove that they should be allowed to keep their guns instead of providing them a presumption of innocence.
Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America used the acronym RINO to disparage what she called “Republicans in Name Only” who support the red flag legislation.
Their support of the bill, he said, is “heinous.”
Pratt pointed to a November police shooting in Maryland as evidence that red flag laws are flawed.
In that incident, police shot and killed 61-year-old Gary Willis, of Ferndale, Md., while going to his house to serve an extreme-risk protection order.
“He’s dead now,” Pratt said. “Gary Willis didn’t get any due process.”
State Rep. Matt Gabler, R-Clearfield County, said residents who traveled to the Capitol performed an important role in “showing what citizens of Pennsylvania really think” about proposals to change the state’s gun laws.