Pa. unlikely to enact weapon bans

New York’s state legislature became the first in the country Tuesday to pass new gun control regulations in reaction to the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. But even though some are willing to put the gun debate on the table, little has changed for west-central Pennsylvania’s legislators.

The New York law expanded an assault weapons ban to include semiautomatic pistols and rifles with detachable magazines and one military-style feature. Semiautomatic shotguns with one military-style feature also will be banned.

In addition, the law added a provision requiring doctors to report to mental health officials when they believe a patient is likely to harm himself or others and authorizes law enforcement to confiscate that person’s firearms.

But for local legislators, all of whom hold “A” ratings from the National Rifle Association or are lifetime members, a similar deal in Pennsylvania seems unlikely.

“I’m sorry as an American to see [a deterioration in any state] of people’s right to bear arms,” said state Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair. “It’s a different mind view there [in New York], but that doesn’t make it right.”

State Rep. Gary Haluska, D-Patton, said people who want to harm others always find a way, and certain laws do nothing but harm hunters and ordinary citizens. However, he said he agreed with statements made Sunday by conservative U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., on CNN’s “State of the Union,” when he said a stand-alone assault weapons ban would never pass but that comprehensive reforms are needed.

Haluska said rather than states make changes individually, Congress should work to pass uniform changes, including to mental health programs and on closing the gun-show loophole regarding transactions without background checks.

Haluska added that gun reform proposals are nothing new to the Pennsylvania House, with gun control bills coming in every year from the Philadelphia delegation.

State Rep. Ronald Waters, D-Philadelphia, wrote a column Monday saying the city has been a “war zone” for years and if gun-rights advocates stand by the phrase “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” then people on both sides of the barrel victims and criminals, individuals and the public – must be “at the heart of this gun debate.”

Waters advocated for improving background checks, regular mental health evaluations for gun owners and potential buyers, improving private gun transfer documentation and high-capacity magazine restrictions.

However in this part of the state, State Rep. Jerry Stern, R-Martinsburg, said there’s “not much of an appetite” for gun bans or restrictions. He said he’s gotten a few calls from adamant constituents who don’t want to pass “feel-good” legislation that won’t solve any problems.

State Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, said attempts to ban or regulate guns are examples of government trying to micromanage people.

“Every time you drive on a public road, you’re interacting with the public,” he said, explaining why it makes sense for the government to make laws impacting drivers and dealing with roads. Guns, however, are personal property, and he said people should act responsibly and get training, without mandates coming down from elected officials.

President Barack Obama already announced support for renewing the expired assault rifles and high-capacity magazines ban, and Vice President Joe Biden said last week Obama is considering an executive order. The president is expected to make his next move after this weekend’s inauguration.

Meanwhile, activists on both sides are taking action across the state.

Lancaster’s mayor and police chief held a press conference on Monday calling on Congress to pass laws requiring background checks for all gun buyers and banning military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. At the same time, 12 mayors from eastern Pennsylvania held a press conference in Media, Pa.

Both events were organized by Mayors Against Illegal Guns as part of a new anti-violence campaign. The coalition website, www .mayorsagainstillegalguns .org, said more than 100 mayors have joined the coalition since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The total membership is more than 830, with 206 from Pennsylvania, including Hollidaysburg’s Joseph R. Dodson, Huntingdon’s Dee Dee Brown, State College’s Elizabeth A. Goreham, Bellefonte’s Stanley Goldman and Nanty Glo’s Stephen Szymusiak.

On the pro-gun side, Gun Appreciation Day kicks off on Saturday. Chairman Larry Hunter said the event is intentionally unorganized, meaning people are “not going to take to the streets” and there will be no large rallies or protests.

Instead, he said he hopes people can send a message that gun owners will not have their rights infringed upon.

He said people can go to local gun stores, ranges or shows with their pocket Constitutions and celebrate their liberty.

“Guns are the last line of defense against tyranny,” he said, adding that the country could heal itself and change the culture of violence if government stopped trying to change the laws to take away Second Amendment freedoms.