HARRISBURG — The deadly mass shootings in New York and Texas this month moved Pennsylvania Democrats to plan four separate pieces of legislation seeking to create a firearm eligibility license, ban certain semiautomatic firearms and also ban the purchase and possession of body armor.

State Sen. Art Haywood, D-Montgomery/Philadelphia, proposed the firearm eligibility license. In a legislative memo, Haywood likened his proposal to a concealed carry permit.

Licensees would be required to complete a firearms safety course and undergo reviews of their adult and juvenile criminal history plus unspecified mental health background. There are exceptions for law enforcement, for example, and those denied a license would have a method to appeal.

“My goal is simple: To ensure that our communities are safe places for our children to grow. This legislation is not intended to punish responsible gun owners,” Haywood wrote in his memo.

Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery, calls for the body armor ban. He says Connecticut already has restrictions and New York is considering prohibition.

“We are at an inflection point where we either become part of the solution or we have blood on our hands,” Riggs wrote in his memo.

Rep. Benjamin V. Sanchez, D-Montgomery, and Rep. Aerion Abney, D-Allegheny, jointly announced they’d team up on an "assault weapons" ban. Sen. Steven Santarsiero, D-Bucks, announced a similar measure, looking to ban 150 unspecified models of firearms plus gun magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds.

The May 14 shooting in Buffalo left 10 Black people dead at a grocery store in a racially motivated attack. Tuesday’s shooting in Uvalde, Texas, ended with 19 children and two teachers dead at an elementary school.

The alleged killers in both shootings each legally purchased the semiautomatic rifles used in the murders after turning 18 years old, according to The Associated Press.

The suspect in the Buffalo shooting was wearing body armor, police there told media. Initial reports claimed the Texas shooter did the same though, according to The Washington Post, police clarified the shooter was wearing a tactical vest without armor plates.

Democrats’ proposals

The gun control measures, all from Democrats, add to the dozens of bills or co-sponsorship memos on the topic already offered in the House and Senate this legislative session by members of the minority party.

Some look to raise the minimum age to 21 years old, enact a 72-hour wait period to purchase semiautomatic rifles, and ban multi-burst trigger activators. Some propose background checks for ammunition purchases or require manufacturers to add serial numbers to ammunition. Others seek to close the “gun show loophole” by requiring background checks on long gun purchases.

The bills, with at least one exception, remain stuck in committee assignments without the necessary support from Republicans, who hold majorities in both chambers and control what legislation is ultimately voted on by the full bodies of the General Assembly.

“Republican leadership in the House of Representatives has been in near complete control for almost 30 years and they refuse to even allow debate on the most widely supported bipartisan gun safety legislation,” House Democratic leadership said Thursday in a joint statement. “They’ve shown that the loss of Pennsylvanians to gun violence, which our own communities experience far too often, isn’t enough to spur them to action. Now we know neither is the massacre of grocery shoppers in Buffalo or innocent children and teachers in Uvalde.”

Senate Democrats issued a formal letter to Republican leadership in both chambers to act on seven different bills including one eliminating most exceptions to existing background checks for firearms purchases and transfers as well as another establishing a centralized database for tracking and reporting on hate groups.

‘Stringent’ gun checks

An attempt by House Democrats to bring forward a proposed ban on "assault weapons" for a floor vote failed Wednesday by a count of 87-111. The vote was on whether to let House members consider the bill and not on the ban itself. One Democrat and one Republican crossed party lines.

A spokesman for the House Republican Caucus on Wednesday pointed to $200 million in school security grants disbursed over the past six years plus the establishment of the Safe 2 Say tip line among public safety initiatives to protect schools and communities.

“Among other measures, Pennsylvania already has one of the most stringent gun background check laws in the country and is considered a national model,” Jason Gottesman said.

Gottesman referred to a 2017 NBC News report in which Pennsylvania’s background check system was called a national model. Data from the report that has since been updated shows that through the close of 2020, no state approached the nearly 945,000 mental health records submitted in Pennsylvania that would disqualify persons from legally owning a firearm.

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