Harrisburg PA gun protect gun rights handgun

An unidentified protester holds a sign at a gun rights rally on the steps of the Pennsylvania State Capitol on January 19, 2013 in Harrisburg, PA.

(The Center Square) — Though Democrats made progress on stricter gun laws by passing two bills in the state House, they have struggled to persuade Republicans.

The policy disagreement appears here to stay, with the GOP favoring better enforcement of existing laws while Democrats advocate for more barriers to, and tracking of, gun ownership.

While four gun-related bills have been proposed and two of them passed a House vote, as The Center Square previously reported, they appear dead on arrival in the Senate.

House Bill 714 would require background checks for all firearm purchases, including private sales and gun show sales. House Bill 1018 is a “red flag” law that would allow the temporary disarmament of a gun owner that is judged to be in crisis.

House Republicans argue the efforts will punish legally abiding citizens and serve as distractions to the problem of criminals with guns.

“Crimes don’t seem to be prosecuted in certain areas the way that they could be,” Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Greensburg, said during a floor debate of HB1018. “But this bill goes after lawful gun owners, forcing them to not be able to protect themselves, and we should oppose it.”

In his weekly newsletter, Nelson argued that “more gun laws are not the answer.”

The last detailed study of Pittsburgh’s gun violence showed 80% of firearm crimes were committed by criminals using illegal guns,” Nelson wrote. “This is a tragic loss of life and my heart goes out to each of those families. The key to reducing crime is supporting the police, creating a strong economy with good jobs, safe communities and opportunity for all.”

Likewise, Rep. Joe D’Orsie, R-York, criticized the bill’s focus.

“Criminals who use guns to harm people are law breakers,” D’Orsie said in his newsletter. “If they’re not following our current, stringent gun laws, why would anyone think they’d follow new ones? Let’s focus on ensuring our police and prosecutors are enforcing the laws already on the books, and make sure they have the proper funding and resources to do so.”

House Democrats called the bills “a major step forward.”

“Having two gun reform bills pass this House is certainly cause for celebration, however we know there is much more work to be done,” Philadelphia House Delegation Chair Morgan Cephas said in a press release. “Our city, as well as the whole commonwealth, is in crisis and we need the General Assembly to recognize there are commonsense ways to help all Pennsylvanians while not infringing on their rights.”

With the bills needing approval from the Republican-controlled Senate, the House passage is symbolic more than a state policy change. Red flag laws exist in 19 states, but generally only in Democratic-controlled ones. Where Republicans control the state government, only Florida and Indiana have them. Florida’s law has been used almost 6,000 times since 2018, which allows police officers to confiscate a person’s guns for a year if a judge approves.

Staff Reporter

Anthony Hennen is a reporter for The Center Square. Previously, he worked for Philadelphia Weekly and the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. He is managing editor of Expatalachians, a journalism project focused on the Appalachian region.