HARRISBURG — Flanked by lawmakers and dozens of advocates, Gov. Tom Wolf on Wednesday gave his ceremonial signature to a bill that aims to keep firearms away from domestic abusers.
Act 79, formerly known as HB 2060, requires people with a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction or final protection from abuse order to relinquish firearms within 24 hours. Those people can no longer hand over weapons to family or friends. (Wolf had already officially signed the bill into law Oct. 12.)
That a piece of gun reform actually passed the Republican-controlled General Assembly seemed to surprise even those involved. Rep. Dan Frankel, a Democrat who represents Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, called it the most significant piece of gun legislation enacted during his 20 years in the House.
The bill won approval in both chambers before the massacre of 11 Jewish people inside a Squirrel Hill synagogue by a gunman who police say had anti-Semitic beliefs and a semi-automatic weapon. The Tree of Life shooting will undoubtedly be invoked during firearm debates when the General Assembly returns next year.
The big question: Will lawmakers actually pass anything?
Rep. Marguerite Quinn, a Republican from Bucks County who sponsored HB 2060, said now that this bill is enacted, she believes naysayers will realize what the legislation actually does. That will help lawmakers next session as they decide what can and should pass, she said, adding that misinformation was “not just floated but targeted to members about this.”
“One can respect the Second Amendment, respect due process, respect the Constitution and make sure guns are not in the wrong hands,” Quinn said.
The loss of moderates
Quinn, one of the lawmakers key to HB 2060’s passage, will not be back next session.
She gave up her House seat to run for state Senate and was defeated by a Democrat as part of a larger blue wave in Southeast Pa. Other moderate Republicans who have been supportive of gun reform, like Sen. Tom McGarrigle, also lost their elections.
Sen. Tom Killion, another moderate Republican from the Philly suburbs, introduced legislation similar to HB 2060 in the Senate. He also co-sponsored a “red flag” bill that would allow for the temporary revocation of firearms from people deemed a threat.
Killion said he sees a path forward for more gun reform, and called HB 2060 a “model for what can be done with bipartisan support.” He also praised the grassroots efforts of groups like Moms Demand Action to pass the bill.
When the General Assembly returns in January for a new session, Killion said he will re-introduce the red flag bill. “Here in Pennsylvania, any time you have a bill that mentions the word ‘gun’ it’s an uphill battle,” he said. Both Killion and Quinn worked with the NRA, which was neutral on the domestic violence legislation, to pick up more votes.
“It’s just hard work,” he said of getting “common sense” bills passed.
Shira Goodman of CeaseFirePA, a statewide organization that supports tougher firearms laws, said there’s a tendency to look for a single legislative solution to stop gun violence.
“We really need to have a wholesale, different conversation about how people get guns, what kind of guns are available, what we’re doing to monitor people who may be in trouble or in crisis,” she said. “And I think if we put a whole bunch of those things together, we are going to save lives.”
Goodman said advocates were hoping the red flag bill would pass this session. She noted that several studies have concluded such legislation has reduced suicides in states like Connecticut and Indiana.
“In Pennsylvania, it’s really easy to get a gun,” she said. “We need to rethink that. I hope passing the domestic violence bill will tell people we can have these conversations, we can debate these things on the floor, we can look at the evidence … and we can get something done.”
Still, it’s hard to imagine that the loss of moderate voices in the GOP caucuses won’t have an effect.
“I think the loss of moderates will hurt the chance for bipartisan work on many, many issues,” Quinn said. She noted the retirement of Rep. Ron Marsico, the Republican who chaired the House Judiciary Committee and brought HB 2060 up for a vote. Quinn said she told him “you showed integrity and guts to bring that up.”
“Losing a moderate voice on any issue,” she said, “it’s not a good way to go.”