Otten, House Democrats call for legislative action on gun safety

EXTON, May 26 – On Wednesday, Pennsylvania House Democrats attempted through procedural action to force the House to consider four gun-safety bills that have been sitting in the House Judiciary Committee for more than a year. State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, introduced a motion on the House floor to suspend the rules and immediately bring H.B. 770, an assault weapons ban, up for a vote.

Despite strong public support for increased gun safety measures, including assault weapon bans, the House voted 111-87 against Otten’s motion, after House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff argued that the legislation should have to go through a committee first.

The bill has spent more than a year in the House Judiciary Committee, where committee Chairman Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, has previously vowed to block gun safety measures from receiving a vote.

In September 2019, the committee was set to consider an extreme risk protection order proposal (also known as a “red flag” law) sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, which would allow for temporary, court-ordered seizure of a person’s firearms. Kauffman blocked the 2019 efforts despite bipartisan support, stating at the time, “ … We will not be considering red flag in the House Judiciary Committee so long as Chairman Kauffman is chairman.” He further said that his committee had “no intention of addressing further gun-control measures this session.”

The Judiciary Committee failed to consider or advance any gun safety proposals for the remainder of the 2019-2020 session and has yet to consider any similar legislation this session.

Now, public calls for legislative action have been renewed in response to Tuesday’s mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, where a gunman massacred 19 young children and two teachers at Robb Elementary School, in the deadliest school shooting since Sandy Hook in 2012.

In remarks following House session, Otten stressed the need for action.

“The Pennsylvania legislature has not done its job. We did nothing after Sandy Hook, Parkland, or even Tree of Life Synagogue, right here in Pennsylvania,” Otten said. “What is it going to take before we finally decide to protect our children in schools, or worshippers in their places of worship, or seniors at the grocery store? When the majority leadership refuses to even use or acknowledge the words ‘guns’ or ‘shooting’ in their official statement about Uvalde, Texas, we know we have the wrong people in charge.”

Otten’s call to action comes after years of Republican-majority legislatures rejecting broadly popular ideas such as expanding background checks or limiting the number of handgun purchases one person can make in a month.