Wolf pushes to end ‘gun show’ exception to background checks

Gov. Tom Wolf

HARRISBURG (AP) — Gov. Tom Wolf on Monday asked the Legislature to pass a measure expanding background checks on firearms in Pennsylvania and end an exception for private sales of shotguns, sporting rifles and semi-automatic rifles, known as the “gun show” loophole.

The Democratic governor appeared at a news conference in his Capitol office with officials from the Pennsylvania State Police supporting his call for action as lawmakers consider firearms-related measures in the wake of February’s Parkland, Florida, high school shooting that killed 17 people.

Wolf is pushing for the passage of what he called “commonsense” gun safety laws “so that we can give back the fundamental expectation of safety, a fundamental right to all Pennsylvanians so we can prevent further needless violence,” he said.

The Republican-controlled Legislature has long resisted gun-control measures and appears unlikely to expand background checks or ban certain devices, such as assault-style weapons or bump stocks, despite the governor’s support.

Those bills have languished in committee without action, despite bipartisan support.

“Universal background checks are one of the best ways we can keep weapons out of the hands of threatening individuals,” Wolf said.

Background checks now cover all sales of handguns, except for transfers within families. Exempt are sales of longer-barreled firearms between unregulated private parties, including private-party sales at gun shows.

Gun-rights groups generally oppose expanding background checks.

“They don’t stop criminals from getting firearms,” the National Rifle Association said in a statement. “Instead, they criminalize private transfers between law-abiding citizens. To stop violence, lawmakers must get to the root of the problem and stop blaming law-abiding people.”

Kim Stolfer, president of the Pennsylvania-based gun-rights group Firearms Owners Against Crime, contended that an expansion of background checks won’t reduce crime since most crimes are committed with handguns.

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, said his chamber is focusing on “red-flag” areas, or preventing people who are at risk of committing violence from getting guns.

As part of that, expanding background checks is “an appropriate discussion to have at this point,” Corman said.

The Senate last month unanimously passed a bill to force people with a domestic violence ruling against them to more quickly forfeit their firearms. Gun-rights groups dropped their opposition after negotiating last-minute changes to the bill, and Wolf on Monday renewed his call for the House to pass it and send it to his desk.

“I’m ready to sign this bill,” Wolf said. “I’m ready to do my part in ensuring that we are doing all we can to close dangerous loopholes and protect victims of domestic abuse.”

The House is eyeing similar measures, including one that would create an “extreme risk protection order” that allows a law enforcement officer, a family member or a household member to petition a judge to order the immediate, if temporary, seizure of someone’s firearms.

The person must be deemed to represent a danger of suicide or “extreme bodily injury” to another person.

Under the Senate’s domestic violence bill, defendants in final protection-from-abuse cases would have to hand over their guns in 24 hours. Current law leaves forfeiture to a judge’s discretion, and the bill’s backers say judges order the forfeiture of firearms in 14 percent of protection-from-abuse cases.

Another provision would narrow the definition of who may keep the firearms of someone who is convicted of a domestic violence crime or who is the subject of a restraining order.

Under current law, that person can give their guns to a relative, friend or neighbor, as long as they don’t live in the same home. The bill would remove that provision and limit custodians to a law enforcement agency, a federally licensed firearms dealer or a lawyer.