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Gov. Tom Wolf to veto bills on carrying, selling guns amid disasters

MARC LEVY
Associated Press
FILE - In this May 6, 2019 file photo, gun rights advocates gather for an annual rally on the steps of the state Capitol in Harrisburg, Pa. Legislation heading to the desk of Gov. Tom Wolf repeals long-standing laws in Pennsylvania intended to control gun-carrying and prevent public officials from shutting down firearms dealers during disaster emergencies declared by a governor.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf will veto legislation heading to his desk that would repeal long-standing laws intended to control the carrying of guns and prevent public officials from shutting down firearms sales during disaster emergencies declared by a governor.

Wolf, a Democrat who has advocated for broader gun control measures, opposes the bills, his office said Thursday.

The bills are the latest to pass the Republican-controlled Legislature that sought to limit Wolf's powers during the existing coronavirus disaster emergency and beyond. Wolf has vetoed more than a half-dozen such bills.

More:Official: Wolf doesn't plan new COVID-19 restrictions

“The current disaster declarations in place are meant to help the administration fight the public health crises at hand and have no impact on citizens and their firearm rights,” Wolf's office said in a statement.

Both bills passed the Senate by identical 29-20 votes on Wednesday, with every Republican and the lone independent senator backing them and every Democrat against them. Both received approval from the state House this year.

One bill would repeal a provision that says “no person shall carry a firearm upon the public streets or upon any public property," although people who have a concealed-carry license are exempt. If signed by Wolf, the bill might not change much; it has long been unenforced, lawmakers say.

However, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Fayette, said the law could be used to limit people from open carrying a firearm, which is not generally prohibited in Pennsylvania.

The bill also would repeal a longstanding provision giving the governor the power to suspend or limit the sale of firearms during a disaster emergency. Governors can invoke a disaster emergency to bypass existing state laws and regulations to help respond to a disaster.

The other bill is designed to prevent a governor or local government from shuttering businesses related to firearms and ammunition during a disaster emergency. Those include retailers, manufacturers, shooting ranges, clubs and hunting preserves.

Wolf imposed a stay-at-home order and shuttered businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining” early in the pandemic. However, Wolf and his health secretary have consistently said they have no intention of implementing another broad-based shutdown.

In March, Wolf allowed gun shops to reopen on a limited basis during the coronavirus pandemic after several justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court urged him to do so. Under those provisions, firearms dealers were allowed to sell their wares by individual appointment during limited hours, as long as they complied with social-distancing guidelines.

Retailers and other businesses and establishments were allowed to reopen more broadly later in the spring.