Meadville Tribune

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April 24, 2013

Gun rights backers march at state Capital

HARRISBURG — David Knight helped organize three busloads of people who woke up in the middle of the night to make the long journey from Beaver County to Harrisburg in time for a 10 a.m. Second Amendment rally.

While speakers railed and flags and picket signs waved in the air, Knight sat on a concrete ledge at the base of the steps leading up to the Capitol and fumed.

“Pat Toomey is done,” he said. “I’d lay money on it.”

Knight helped organize the busloads of gun rights advocates through the Beaver County Sportsman’s Conservation League, a coalition of 14 clubs. They were among the hundreds of protesters gathered at the event led by Republican Rep. Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County. Butler’s House Bill 357 would bar Pennsylvania or its employees from complying with any federal laws that would further restrict gun rights.

Metcalfe’s House Bill 357 has 74 cosponsors in a state House that needs 102 votes to pass a bill. Co-sponsors include Republican Reps. Michele Brooks, Greg Lucas and Brad Roae, all of Crawford County, and Dick Stevenson of Mercer County.

Metcalfe’s bill took on greater urgency to gun rights advocates as debate in the Senate, led by Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Toomey, focused on a compromise that includes universal background checks on gun purchases. Toomey’s compromise was rejected, but the fact that gun control has become a matter of national debate is alarming, protesters and speakers said.

Knight was not the only one to suggest that Toomey will face lasting political blowback for stepping forward as a voice of compromise on gun control.

“I don’t like him,” said Charles Stockunas, of Darlington in Beaver County.

Republican Sen. Elder Vogel of Lawrence County said that it makes no sense to pass national laws on gun control because the interests and cultures differ across the country. Laws that may be appropriate in New York or California will not work in Pennsylvania, he said.

Knight said that the discussion about background checks are overblown because almost all gun sales in Pennsylvania go through a licensed dealer. Background checks take place in sales conducted by licensed dealers. Only private sales of long guns can be completed without a background check in Pennsylvania.

Stockunas said he is an avid trap shooter and he is worried that the Obama Administration will push to limit gun access. Stockunas pointed to the Boston Marathon bombings. Neither of the alleged terrorists had gone through background checks to obtain their firearms. And the bombs were made out of pressure cookers.

“I didn’t even know you could do that (with pressure cookers),” he said.

“Once you get to Harrisburg or Washington, you have to play by their rules,” Pat Cody of Beaver County said as he listened to speakers at the rally.

Not everyone at the rally was convinced that Toomey had betrayed his constituents.

Stan Zellers of the Susquehanna Valley Conservatives in Lewisburg said Toomey “was taking a middle of the road path to demonstrate reasonableness. I can’t fault him for that.”

Zellers said that he is more concerned about what the government does with information obtained through background checks. He was reassured that Toomey’s proposal explicitly barred the government from compiling background check information into any kind of database.

Finnerty reports from Harrisburg for Community Newspaper Holdings Inc.’s Pennsylvania newspapers, including The Meadville Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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