York County's lawmakers AWOL while Wolf presses on gun control

Logan Hullinger
York Dispatch
Protesters fill a street during a march in favor of gun control Saturday, March 24, 2018, in Seattle. Students and activists across the country planned events Saturday in conjunction with a Washington march spearheaded by teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where over a dozen people were killed in February. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

State lawmakers representing York County offered only radio silence after Gov. Tom Wolf called for new restrictions on gun ownership in the wake of mass shootings in Ohio and Texas.

In the past two weeks, at least 31 individuals died in mass shootings  in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas. And on Wednesday, six Philadelphia police officers were shot in a standoff while serving a warrant.

Over a week's time, The York Dispatch made repeated phone and email inquiries to every state lawmaker representing York County about proposals such as universal background checks and red flag laws.

Not a single lawmaker responded for comment. 

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"I wouldn't think that massaging the background check law would be very controversial for many Republicans," said G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College. "The Republicans control the General Assembly, and it could be that some Republican lawmakers might be reluctant to support any changes to PA's gun laws."

Every state senator and House member representing York County is a Republican, with the exception of Rep. Carol Hill-Evans, D-York City. Hill-Evans' office told The York Dispatch her schedule was booked and she was unavailable for an interview.

Those contacted multiple times include Reps. Kate Klunk, Stan Saylor, Dawn Keefer and Seth Grove as well as Sens. Kristin Phillips-Hill, Mike Folmer, and Doug Mastriano.

Reps. Mike Jones and Keith Gillespie were contacted on Wednesday via phone and email but didn't return requests for comment.. A spokesman for Sen. Mike Regan said the lawmaker wouldn't comment on matters that aren't involved in active legislation.

After the Philadelphia shootings on Wednesday, Wolf announced he would be delaying an executive order aimed to address gun violence by creating state offices focused on violence prevention and reduction.

The order would also "expand programs that promote safety, refocus departments on combating gun violence as a public health crisis and increase collaboration and data sharing between the public, government agencies and other states," according to a news release.

“Too many Pennsylvanians are losing their lives to gun violence, and even more Pennsylvanians’ lives are being disrupted by the terror and fear caused by gun violence,” Wolf said. “We simply are not doing enough to stop people from dying and to give communities the peace of mind that they deserve.”

Along with the executive order that now does not have a set date, Wolf reaffirmed his support for a variety of gun-control measures requiring approval in the state Legislature, such as universal background checks, a red flag law and a safe storage law.

A red flag law would permit family members or police to ask a state court to remove firearms from someone believed to be a danger. A  safe storage law would force gun owners to unload and lock guns when unattended.

Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, last year introduced a bill that is now off the table that would have allowed courts to issue an Extreme Risk Protective Order — under a red flag law — to prohibit a dangerous individual from possessing a firearm for up to a year.

The National Rifle Association voiced its opposition to the bill, joining other pro-gun organizations that in 2018 spent $1.23 million in lobbying in the state, the highest since at least 2007, according to the Department of State. 

While the legislation does check some of the NRA's boxes for approval, such as penalizing those who falsify reports, the organization remains opposed because a person could lose their gun rights through an "ex parte" proceeding, where a defendant doesn't participate, reported WITF.

A majority of state residents support such gun control measures, according to a new Franklin & Marshall College Poll. Of the more than 600 residents polled, 64% of respondents would either somewhat or strongly favor more laws regulating gun

"People reach a tipping point," said Shira Goodman, executive director of the pro gun-control group CeaseFirePA. "The fact we went through these two instances so closely, it's shocking to people. More and more people have been making this a voting issue."

Goodman noted many Republicans have been supportive of at least some gun-control measures. However, there is still a discrepancy, she said, especially in rural areas.

"Some of it's geographic," she said. "If you have a lot of the Dems in more urban and suburban areas where they've seen the effects of gun violence, they're more in tune with the issues."

— Logan Hullinger can be reached at lhullinger@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @LoganHullYD.