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Gun safety bills fail in Pa. House by razor thin margin

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John Cole, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
May 7, 2024

Hours after hundreds of gun safety advocates rallied at the state capitol, the Pennsylvania House voted down a pair of bills, one that would have banned machine gun conversion devices and another that aimed to curb gun trafficking. 

House Bills 335 and 2206 both failed by a 101-100 vote Tuesday, with state Rep. Frank Burns (D-Cambria), joining every Republican in opposition.

“Today, 500 Pennsylvanians from over 45 counties and three fourths of state legislative districts showed that the broad majority of our Commonwealth demands safer communities,” Adam Garber, Executive Director of CeaseFirePA Action said in a statement to the Capital-Star. “And also today, a handful of radical lawmakers defied that mass movement of survivors, youth, doctors, and interfaith leaders, choosing instead to allow illegal machine guns and firearm trafficking to continue killing Pennsylvanians.” 

“We will hold them accountable for betraying their duty to keep us safe, and we won’t stop until we can all live our lives free from gun violence,” Garber added. 

Although both bills failed on Tuesday, House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) and Rep. Dan Miller (D-Allegheny) made a motion to reconsider them. 

State Rep. Ben Sanchez (D-Montgomery), who sponsored House Bill 335, said on the House floor prior to the vote that the legislation would ban future sales and purchases of accelerated trigger activators, like the one used in the largest mass shooting in U.S. history at a country music festival in Las Vegas in 2017

“Accelerated trigger activators like bump stocks and glock switches accelerate the rate of fire of a semi automatic firearm to simulate the rate of fire of a machine gun,” Sanchez said. “Madam Speaker, this bill makes it clear that machine guns have no place in a civilized society.”

Sanchez also argued that other states and the federal government have taken action to prohibit trigger activators, including Republican governors and former President Donald Trump. Sanchez said outlawing trigger activators should not be a partisan issue. 

House Minority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said he was a no vote because the matter is already covered under the National Firearms Act. In February, the U.S. Supreme Court heard a challenge over the ban on bump stocks passed during the Trump administration. 

“I understand the issues of gun violence,” Cutler said. “I understand the desire to blame inanimate objects such as a firearm and that’s exactly what this bill does. And that’s why it will not work.”

State Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Lawrence) also urged a no vote as he argued that “it seems that we don’t know what this bill even is other than a violation of the Second Amendment.”

House Majority Leader Matt Bradford (D-Montgomery) spoke in favor of the bill and cited support from Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele, who leads the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association. Bradford argued that local district attorneys can’t prosecute federal crimes and this legislation would provide them with another tool at their disposal to combat crime. 

State Rep. Anthony Bellmon (D-Philadelphia), who sponsored House Bill 2206, said his legislation was developed in collaboration with law enforcement to streamline the process of filing gun records of sale with the Pennsylvania State Police.

Bellman said the bill would also codify the track and trace program developed by then- Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro in 2019 to assist law enforcement tracking crime, guns, preventing gun trafficking, reducing straw purchases, and making communities safer.

“Let’s be crystal clear, this bill does not create any list, any database or a registry,” Bellmon said. “This bill simply improves the process that’s already in place.”

“It merely modernizes our existing processes by requiring that documentation currently mailed to the state police be submitted electronically instead,” Bellmon added. “Delays in the filing of paperwork is dangerous for our law enforcement and makes our communities less safe.”

State Rep. Stephanie Borowicz (R-Clinton) claimed that the goal of the legislation was to let the government know who owns firearms. 

“The only reason the government would want to know everything we own and how much we own of it would be to take everything and every gun that we own away,” Borowicz said.

Tuesday was not the first time that Democratic-backed gun safety legislation failed because Burns joined with Republicans. In May 2023, Burns was also the only Democrat to vote with Republicans, defeating legislation that would have required gun owners to report lost and stolen guns to police. 

A few hours prior to the vote, CeaseFirePA Action celebrated the legislation that has moved forward since Democrats regained control of the House in the 2022 election. 

Before that, Garber said that only one gun safety bill had passed the Pennsylvania House in the last 15 years.

Since then, Garber said three bills have been passed including one that would provide extreme risk protection orders to give life saving tools to family members to prevent firearm suicide, universal background checks to ensure every AR15 comes with a background check first, and a ghost gun ban that will prevent shootings from untraceable firearms.

He expressed confidence the two bills before the House on Tuesday would pass, but said the legislature had more work to do. 

Garber and others placed the onus on the GOP-controlled Senate to advance those pieces of legislation. 

“Listen, we need to elect more Democrats in the Senate,” Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) said at the rally. “Three more Democrats in the Senate and you’ve got my commitment.”

“My plan, if Senate Democrats are in charge of the Senate, these measures will be on the Senate floor the first week in Harrisburg and we will be there every single day voting on these measures until we get Republicans to join us,” Costa added.

The issue of gun safety has been top of mind at the capital over the past two weeks. While CeaseFirePA held a rally on Tuesday, gun rights supporters held a 2nd Amendment rally on the Capitol steps last week.

Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.

This article is republished from Pennsylvania Capital-Star under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.