House panel approves gun reform bills – measures include a Red Flag law proposal, as well as legislation calling for universal background checks for gun purchases, and adding safe storage and lost or stolen gun reporting requirements.

By John Finnerty

HARRISBURG (April 26) – The House Judiciary Committee approved a package of gun reform bills over Republican objections that the measures would do little to reduce gun crime but only create potential legal snags for otherwise law-abiding gun owners.

The measures are the latest in a series of high-profile bills to begin moving in the chamber since Democrats took control. The House is also poised to give full approval to legislation that would add anti-discrimination protections for the LGBTQ+ community . House committees have also begun moving bills aimed at creating incentives – including state scholarships – for college students preparing to become teachers, as well as legislation that would increase protections for workers.

The gun reform measures include a bill that would require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms; a bill that would require all guns to be sold with trigger locks and mandate that gun owners safely store their weapons; a bill calling for universal background checks for all gun purchases; and a red flag bill.

Rep. Tim Bonner, R-Mercer, said that based on recent federal court decisions it’s far from clear that the bills would withstand legal challenges if they were to become law.

Gun control advocates cheered the vote.

“Today was a good day for a safer Pennsylvania. The Judiciary Committee gave voice to the vast majority of Pennsylvanians who for years have been crying out for life-saving improvements to our firearm safety laws. We will not stop honoring those we’ve already lost and preventing the next death until these bills are on Governor Shapiro’s desk,” said Adam Garber, executive director of CeaseFire PA.

House Judiciary Committee Majority Chairman Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, characterized the measures as common sense reforms and said “this is a first step, but I can assure you, it won’t be the last.”

House Bill 338 would require that gun owners report if they’ve lost a firearm or had one stolen with 72 hours of the firearm going missing.

The legislation was prime sponsored by Rep. Ben Sanchez, D-Montgomery, and Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia. They said the legislation will help combat the proliferation of illegal guns used by criminals obtained through straw purchases.

“This is as common sense as it gets,” Kenyatta said.

Rep. Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, the minority chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said responsible gun owners will alert police if a firearm goes missing with or without this legislation and criminals won’t even if the law is in place.

House Bill 731 would spell out new requirements mandating that firearms have locking devices that prevent them from being fired and that firearms be stored in a secure manner.

House Bill 714 would expand background checks to cover all firearm sales, except transfers between family members.

House Bill 1018 would create a red flag process to use Extreme Risk Protection Orders to get firearms taken away from individuals deemed a threat.

Republicans expressed the concern that the provisions in HB 1018 could be “weaponized” in a way that gun-owners might be ordered to relinquish their weapons and then be faced with an overly-burdensome process to demonstrate that they should be allowed to have their firearms returned to them.

The legislation specified the following factors be considered by judges when determining if an Extreme Risk Protection Order is in order: whether the gun-owner has threatened or attempted suicide; whether he or she has committed domestic abuse or is subject to a protection from abuse order; whether he or she is alleged to have committed animal abuse, or abuse drugs or alcohol or otherwise committed drug and alcohol-related criminal offenses; whether he or she has illegally or recklessly displayed or brandished firearms; and whether he or she has recently obtained a firearm or attempted to acquire one.

Based on those factors, Rep. David Rowe, R-Union, questioned whether a judge could then issue an Extreme Risk Protection Order based solely on the fact that a person has recently obtained a gun.