Wolf pushes to end gun-show exception to background checks
HARRISBURG – Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday asked the Legislature to pass a measure expanding background checks on firearms in Pennsylvania and end an exception for shotguns, sporting rifles and semi-automatic rifles that are sold at gun shows.
The Democratic governor appeared at a news conference in his Capitol office with officials from the Pennsylvania State Police supporting his call for action as lawmakers consider firearms-related measures in the wake of February’s Parkland, Florida, high school shooting that killed 17 people.
In a news conference with Pennsylvania State Police officials, Wolf called for the passage of “commonsense” gun safety laws “so that we can give back the fundamental expectation of safety, a fundamental right to all Pennsylvanians so we can prevent further needless violence.”
The Republican-controlled Legislature has long resisted gun-control measures and appears unlikely to expand background checks or ban certain devices, such as assault-style weapons or bump stocks, despite the governor’s support.
Those bills have languished in committee without action, despite bipartisan support.
“Universal background checks are one of the best ways we can keep weapons out of the hands of threatening individuals,” Wolf said.
Currently, background checks cover all sales of handguns, except for transfers within families.
The Senate last month unanimously passed a bill to force people with a domestic violence ruling against them to more quickly forfeit their firearms. Gun-rights groups dropped their opposition after negotiating last-minute changes to the bill, and Wolf on Monday renewed his call for the House to pass it and send it to his desk.
“I’m ready to sign this bill,” Wolf said. “I’m ready to do my part in ensuring that we are doing all we can to close dangerous loopholes and protect victims of domestic abuse.”
The House is eyeing similar measures, including one that would create an “extreme risk protection order” that allows a law enforcement officer, a family member or a household member to petition a judge to order the immediate, if temporary seizure of someone’s firearms.
The petition would have to be accompanied by allegations that the person represents a danger of suicide or “extreme bodily injury” to another person.
Under the Senate’s domestic violence bill, defendants in final protection-from-abuse cases would have to hand over their guns in 24 hours. Current law leaves forfeiture to a judge’s discretion, and the bill’s backers say judges order the forfeiture of firearms in 14 percent of protection-from-abuse cases.
In addition, people convicted of a domestic violence crime would have 48 hours to give up their firearms.
Under current law, people convicted of domestic violence have 60 days, although a person charged with a domestic violence crime typically loses their firearms well before a conviction, either as a condition of bail or of a temporary restraining order, defense lawyers say.
Another provision would narrow the definition of who may keep the firearms of someone who is convicted of a domestic violence crime or who is the subject of a restraining order.
Under current law, that person can give their guns to a relative, friend or neighbor, as long as they don’t live in the same home. The bill would remove that provision and limit custodians to a law enforcement agency, a federally licensed firearms dealer or a lawyer.