Pa. gun background check supporters rally; will bill ever pass?

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HARRISBURG, Pa. -- Hundreds of Pennsylvanians supporting tougher background checks on gun buyers rallied at the state Capitol Rotunda on Monday, demanding lawmakers vote on a pair of bills which, advocates say, would strengthen gun laws.

However, House Bill 1010 and Senate Bill 1049 have sat untouched in committees since October and November respectively.

The two bills, authored by Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) and Sen. Vincent Hughes (D-Philadelphia), would require all gun sales to take place in front of a licensed dealer or county sheriff. Current law does not prohibit the private sale of long-barrel guns, such as a rifles, shotguns, or military-style weapons.

"What is the logic in not doing something so logical?" asked Tim Stevens, the executive director of the Black Political Empowerment Project in Pittsburgh.

Monday's rally was sponsored by gun violence prevention groups CeaseFirePA and Pennsylvania United for Background Checks. Hundreds of supporters came to Harrisburg from across the state and stood along the Capitol Rotunda steps, many holding signs advocating for stronger background checks, or pictures of loved ones lost due to gun violence.

"How long we have to wait to do the right thing?" shouted Sen. Hughes. "Let us make sure these lives that are lost are never repeated again."

Both bills have 80 combined co-sponsors and include bipartisan support with 12 Republicans. However, it faces an uphill battle to get voted out of committee, let alone see the House or Senate floor, due to a strong Second Amendment, gun rights lobby, according to Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler).

"Gun control measures have no chance at passing the House," Metcalfe said Monday. "There is little chance of passing in the Senate, and absolutely no chance in House of Representatives."

Metcalfe is one of the staunchest supporters of the Second Amendment in Pennsylvania State Government. He is hosting a rally in the Capitol Rotunda on May 24 at 10 a.m. to support gun owner rights.

In his mind, the current laws are sufficient, and blames the "liberal, gun-grabbing legislators" for trying to take rights away from law-abiding citizens.

"The reality is, we have laws on the books that when enforced, will bring the full hammer down on those who break laws with guns," Metcalfe said.

His solution to reduce gun violence is allowing more people access to guns, with the expectation, he says, crime will decrease.

Expanded background check supporters though, like Rep. Santarsiero, view his and Sen. Hughes' legislation as a common-sense approach to making Pennsylvania safer.

"For them, you would think this is the erosion of our constitutional rights," he said of gun rights activists, like Metcalfe. "Nothing could be further from truth.  All of us here today who support universal background checks respect the Second Amendment."