As the Pennsylvania State Senate Judiciary Committee came toward the end of nine hours of hearings on gun control over a two-day span, emotions finally began to show.
State Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, the committee’s minority chairman, lashed out at representatives from the National Rife Association and other gun rights advocates after they testified before the committee.
“You say that you want to talk about straw purchase, you want to talk about other laws,” Farnese said. “Show us.”
Farnese told the panelists that at some point they would have to sit down and talk with gun control advocates and Democrats when they regain a majority in the chamber.
“I still can’t get my arms around the fact that we cannot get at least a discussion, a discussion about lost and stolen” weapons, he said.
At one point, state Sen. Lisa Baker, the committee’s chairwoman, told her counterpart that he was treating the panelists, albeit unintentionally, with a lack of respect.
Dave Weber, the state director for the NRA, told Farnese and the other senators that he’d be willing to meet with the Philadelphia lawmaker.
“We don’t oppose listening to other people’s views,” he said. “I still represent the NRA and we have our viewpoints, and I’m going to stand with those viewpoints.”
Those viewpoints include opposing bans on assault weapons and magazine sizes as well as having concerns about laws that would take away guns, so-called “red flag” laws, without some type of due process for the individual.
Wednesday’s panelists featured both gun rights and gun control advocates speaking before the committee as well as a nonpartisan analyst who researches gun laws.
Val Fennell, the Pennsylvania director for Gun Owners of America, testified that gun control laws have not been successful and, in some cases, the repeal of those laws have made the country safer. He noted that in the seven years after the federal assault weapons ban of 1994 was lifted, murders dropped by 43 percent and even other violent crimes, such as rapes, dropped as well.
Fennell’s written testimony also noted that the federal ban also limited magazine capacity, which is one of the topics Farnese said he wanted to address.
Andrew Morral, a senior behavioral scientist for the RAND Corporation who heads up the think tank’s initiative to better understand the impact of gun laws and regulations, corroborated testimony that mental health advocates gave Tuesday. In his remarks, he noted that 15,000 Pennsylvanians died from gunshot wounds from 2008 to 2017. Two-thirds of those deaths were from suicides.
Morral noted that figure was 10 percent higher than the people who died from car crashes. It also was more than the number of people who died from opioid overdoses, liver disease and other conditions that state and federal researchers have studied in an attempt to reduce their impact on communities.
The same cannot be said about efforts to study firearm deaths, he noted.
“Because of this underinvestment, I cannot provide you with answers to basic questions about whether laws involving, for instance, gun-free zones or assault weapon bans make us more or less safe,” Morral offered in his written testimony. “This does not mean that states should hold off passing legislation that legislators believe is likely to improve public safety and health. No one suggests that laws should not be passed until rigorous scientific evidence is available to support them.”