Capitol Notebook

Gov. Tom Wolf again calls on GOP-led legislature to act on guns

by Cynthia Fernandez and Angela Couloumbis |

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks at a news conference in his Capitol offices on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2020 in Harrisburg, Pa.
Marc Levy / AP

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A decade ago, then-Gov. Ed Rendell declared passing gun control laws in Pennsylvania “a lost cause,” saying the legislature was too beholden to gun rights groups to make any changes.

On Tuesday, another Democratic governor made an impassioned plea to state lawmakers to take up the issue by mandating universal background checks and passing a “red flag” law to allow firearms to be temporarily seized from people declared by a court a threat to themselves or others.

“Let’s make 2020 the year we choose to stop being cynical about the politics of gun violence,” Gov. Tom Wolf told a joint session of the legislature while pitching his latest budget.

Many of Wolf’s proposals, including strengthening reporting requirements for lost and stolen firearms, mirror ones that Rendell and others called for in 2010. The state’s laws have remained largely unchanged since then.

Republicans leaders, who control both legislative chambers, on Tuesday were noncommittal about Wolf’s call for action on gun bills.

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Jennifer Kocher, spokesperson for Senate Republicans, said her caucus has not yet taken a position on the specific changes Wolf pushed on Tuesday. But, she said, Republican senators are attempting to tackle the issue of gun-violence more “holistically,” including factoring in proposals surrounding mental health and school safety.

In recent years, the majority party has been more open to holding hearings to debate gun violence prevention proposals. In 2018, the legislature approved a measure further restricting gun access for people convicted of some domestic violence crimes, as well as people covered under final protection-from-abuse orders. It was hailed as a watershed moment in Pennsylvania.

In this legislative session, both chambers have continued hearings on gun-related bills — although the House’s Judiciary Committee chairman made headlines last fall when he abruptly declared that no other gun-related bills would be considered by his panel. That all but ensures that a red flag proposal that seemed to be gaining momentum will not get a vote this legislative session, which ends in November.

Still, advocates for more gun restrictions on Tuesday said they believed Wolf’s plea could change the legislative playbook.

“I’m glad to see that the governor has taken the bully pulpit and put it at the level that it deserves to be,” said Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke, who was in the Capitol Tuesday with Mayor Jim Kenney and Councilmember Cherelle L. Parker to hear Wolf speak.

Said Kenney: “I have nothing against gun ownership or hunting or anything like that. It’s just people have different cultural experiences. And ours around guns in the city and the surrounding area involve death, and not hunting or sport.”

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