Pennsylvania Capitol

Pennsylvania House Republicans avoided debate, and votes, on four proposed gun control measures, one introduced by a GOP lawmaker, sencing the legislation to another committee and evading a potential floor vote of the full chamber.

HARRISBURG — The bipartisanship displayed, as mild as it is, by the U.S. Senate in announcing the framework on a modest gun control proposal didn’t translate from Washington to Harrisburg.

Pennsylvania lawmakers in the General Assembly ended Monday no closer to making a similar announcement as Republicans outmaneuvered Democrats on a package of bills in the state House and voted down a resolution to consider a measure on extreme risk protection orders in the state Senate.

The choice by Senate Democrats to pursue that particular measure was calculated — the U.S. Senate proposal would provide funding to states to enact “red flag laws.” Such laws seek to temporarily remove firearms by court order from the possession of individuals found to pose a credible threat to themselves and others.

“To cease and not even allow discussion about a bill, it’s an embarrassment to this institution regardless of how you would vote on the bill, and there are arguments on both sides that are legitimate,” said state Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Delaware/Philadelphia, said after a 21-28 vote ended the Democrats’ attempt to wrest the extreme risk protection order bill from committee for a floor vote. “It lacks courage, it lacks transparency and most importantly, it is not transparent or democratic.”

A trio of Pennsylvania House Republicans did announce on Monday that they are working to impeach Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and have him removed from office. They cited deadly gun violence in the state’s largest city and accused Krasner of failing to enforce current laws.

Democrats in both chambers last week separately filed discharge resolutions on specific gun control measures — six in the Senate, four in the House — in the wake of mass shootings in New York, Texas and Philadelphia.

The Senate proposals look to expand background checks on long guns, set reporting requirements for lost and stolen firearms, establish safe storage protocol, institute extreme risk protection orders and enact a 72-hour wait period on all firearms purchases and transfers.

The House measures also propose protection orders and safe storage requirements plus propose a ban on certain semiautomatic firearms and amend state law to allow individual counties, municipalities and townships to regulate firearms and ammunition.

Because Republicans hold majorities in both chambers, they set the voting schedule and control which bills pass through committees to the chamber floors for full consideration. That leaves most Democratic proposals to remain in calculated limbo after introduction.

A successful discharge resolution would pull a bill from committee onto the chamber floor for a vote.

Monday’s Senate vote defeated one of the Democrats’ resolutions. The rest could be called forward but likely face the same fate.

House Republicans stymied such an effort before even considering such a resolution.

Thursday’s scheduled House session was canceled, the day Democrats planned to bring the resolutions forward. House Speaker Bryan Cutler’s office cited budget negotiations, not the discharge attempt, for the cancelation. Subsequently, all four bills Democrats sought to discharge were put on the agenda for a meeting by the Judiciary Committee.

State Rep. Rob Kauffman chairs the Judiciary Committee. He pledged in 2019 when a “red flag law” had been proposed by Republican state Rep. Todd Stephens that the committee would not consider such a proposal as long as he is chairman.

Stephens reintroduced his proposed law on extreme risk protection orders this session, and Kauffman ultimately held to his pledge on Monday.

When the meeting opened, a motion was made to move all four of the Democrats’ bills to the Local Government Committee. State Rep. Johnathan Hershey, R-Juniata/Franklin/Mifflin, made the motion, which was seconded by state Rep. Jim Rigby, R-Cambria/Somerset.

Hershey cited the U.S. Senate’s announcement and said one of the proposals undermined state law preempting local control on gun laws. It ultimately passed 19-5 with one no-vote. Several Democrats supported the movement in the hopes they’d have better luck as the bill moved through the House floor to the next committee.

That didn’t happen.

The full House affirmed the bill’s movement by a margin of 110-90, with two Republicans voting against the re-referral.

Since all four bills were moved to a new committee, the House Democrats’ discharge resolutions all were nullified.

State Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, the committee’s minority party chair, called it a “dereliction of duty.”

“If something happens between now and whenever the Local Government Committee convenes, the blood is on your hands. This isn’t just rhetoric,” Briggs said.

“The ‘blood on your hands’ rhetoric is the kind of rhetoric that’s gotten us to where we are as a nation,” Kauffman later retorted, saying district attorneys must confront gun violence with current laws.

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