Gun laws to be discussed
A one-day House session will be held in September
By RICHARD FELLINGER Harrisburg bureau
Jul 9, 2006 — Anti-gun lawmakers will get a shot this fall to advance new gun laws in a rare, one-day House session.
Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, brokered a deal with House Republican leaders to hold the session on crime and violence Sept. 26. The House will convene in a Committee of the Whole, which allows House members to debate and take unofficial "straw votes" meant to show how much support exists for proposals.
House Majority Leader Sam Smith, R-Jefferson, agreed to the session last week as a vote neared on the state budget. Several Democrats were eyeing procedural maneuvers on bottled-up gun bills that threatened to delay the budget, and the one-day session in September appeased both sides.
Key bills that Evans and his allies want to move include a "one-gun-a-month" proposal, which would limit handgun buyers to one purchase per month, and a measure that would give Philadelphia power to enact its own gun laws.
New gun laws are always hard to move through the Legislature, and there are no indications yet that the one-day session will be any different. The session is the latest strategy by anti-gun lawmakers who are usually at odds with Republicans who control the Legislature and typically resist new gun laws.
While many Democrats point to inner-city violence as evidence of the need for new gun controls, many Republicans routinely say tougher enforcement of existing gun laws is a better strategy.
Evans and his allies hope the session shows enough support to convince House leaders to move the bills.
Some Republicans are wary of the upcoming one-day session, while some question whether much will come out of it.
Asked if he sees a need for the session, Rep. Ron Miller, R-Jacobus, replied, "Probably not." Still, Miller said he's willing to have the session, saying it "may help clear the air and focus on what is possible." Miller believes it will be hard to advance the lead bills backed by the anti-gun block, but said it could be possible if Evans cobbles together the right coalition.
York Mayor John Brenner, who has advocated tougher gun laws, was glad to hear the session was scheduled.
"I think any time the Legislature gets together to discuss an issue that affects every single municipality in the state it's a good thing," Brenner said.
The Sept. 26 session will be the first high-profile push for new gun laws since Gov. Ed Rendell formed a special commission to seek solutions for gun violence two years ago.
The panel recommended harsher penalties for those who break gun laws but did not endorse a one-gun-a-month law.
Rendell campaigned on the one-gun-a-month law as a candidate in 2002, pitching it as a way to prevent traffickers from stockpiling guns through legal buyers, but has not spent political capital on it in the GOP-controlled Legislature.
Opponents of a one-gun-a-month law say criminals would still find ways to get guns.
"I think the only people who are affected are law-abiding people," Rep. Steven Nickol, R-Hanover, said.
The Sept. 26 session will mark the second time in a year that House leaders resorted to a Committee of the Whole to gauge support on a hot-button issue. Pressured to respond to rank-and-file concerns after last year's pay raise, House leaders also called one last fall to take straw votes on property-tax plans.
About the gun session
· In the House only on Sept. 26
· House members can debate plans and take "straw votes"
· Straw votes are unofficial votes in which individual votes are not recorded
· The session is known as a Committee of the Whole