Wolf takes aim at gun violence

AP

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signs an executive order to reduce gun violence during a ceremony at the Capitol on Friday.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday announced a sweeping plan to use an executive order to combat gun violence while waiting for the General Assembly to tackle the issue.

Under the plan, the state will create an Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and a Division of Violence Prevention within the Department of Health.

“Too many Pennsylvanians are dying from gun violence. We need to fix our weak gun laws and pass reforms focused on increasing safety and reducing danger to our citizens.” Gov. Wolf said. “The action I am announcing today includes provisions for Pennsylvanians of all walks of life and looks at gun violence from all angles.”

The strategy will include expanded efforts to share data to identify and prevent potential gun violence, as well as efforts to better track domestic terrorism groups, and get guns off the street through buyback programs, Wolf said.

The state will also expand its “See Something/Send Something” program to receive reports through text messages of suspicions about planned mass shootings by text, Wolf said.

The effort will be led by former Philadelphia police commissioner Charles Ramsey.

Wolf made the announcement two days after a gunman injured six police officers in Philadelphia. That shooting prompted the governor to delay unveiling the new strategy while he went to Philadelphia to meet with the injured officers.

The governor said the plan has been under development for months.

“This is not an impulsive response,” he said.

The governor said the aim is to combat three broad kinds of gun violence — community shootings, suicide and mass shootings.

Ramsey called the governor’s plan an “unprecedented approach” to combat gun violence as a public health crisis that could serve as a national model.

The Senate judiciary committee is planning hearings on possible changes to the state’s gun laws in September, state Sen. Lisa Baker, the chairwoman of that committee, announced earlier this week.

The House judiciary committee held a series of hearings on possible gun law changes in 2018 after the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

Republican lawmakers contacted for this story said they are willing to consider possible reforms, but they expressed skepticism about some of the specific proposals backed by Wolf.

State Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming County, said he’s concerned that the Extreme Risk Protection Order bill makes it too easy to get a judge to order that a gun-owner has to surrender his or her firearms without allowing the gun owner to contest the ruling.

“Bad people are going to do bad things,” said state Rep. Kurt Masser, R-Northumberland County. “I’m open to discussing solutions that will actually solve the problem but I’m hesitant to support things that will only impede law-abiding citizens rights.”

Mike Straub, a spokesman for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County, said the suspect in the Philadelphia police shooting had criminal convictions that barred him from possessing firearms.

“It proves once again that criminals will not follow changes we make to existing firearm laws, and we must examine the root cause of violence, distress and mental illness in our communities before we force changes upon the millions of Pennsylvanians who legally and responsibly own firearms and obey our laws,” he said.

Straub said there are more than a dozen gun reform bills already introduced and legislative leaders are “working now to determine the next steps for many of these bills.”

The governor’s move was welcomed by gun control groups.

“Gov. Wolf is taking much-needed action that will dedicate the power and resources of the Executive Branch to fighting gun violence and making PA safer,” said Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA. “We appreciate his actions today and echo his call for the legislature to do its part and pass critical laws like Extreme Risk Protection Orders, background check expansion and granting cities the power to regulate firearms on city property.”

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