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Shootings of Philadelphia officers lead to postponement of governor’s announcement of anti-gun violence measures

Gov. Wolf (Governor Tom Wolf/WikiCommons)

After multiple police officers were shot in North Philadelphia during an armed standoff that stretched into Wednesday night, Gov. Tom Wolf postponed an event scheduled for Thursday where he expected to sign an executive order intended to help curb gun violence.

“Out of respect for the officers injured and the ongoing situation in North Philadelphia, this announcement will be postponed,” the governor’s communications wrote in an email Wednesday night.

The Philadelphia shootings came less than two weeks after deadly mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. Earlier in the day Wednesday, said he would sign an executive order on Thursday intended to increase state government’s focus on curbing gun violence.

Wolf’s announcement of the Thursday morning signing event said he had been at work on the initiatives for months. The pair of mass shootings happened Aug. 3-4, but a previous mass shooting happened in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, leaving 11 dead. At least five police officers were shot Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia.

“Too many Pennsylvanians are losing their lives to gun violence, and even more Pennsylvanians’ lives are being disrupted by the terror and fear caused by gun violence,” Wolf said in his initial announcement Wednesday.. “We simply are not doing enough to stop people from dying and to give communities the peace of mind that they deserve.”

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The Wednesday night statement said the signing event was postponed to a later date to be determined.

In Allentown since the beginning of June, 27 people have been shot, including one who died. On Aug. 1, police officers killed a man who fired shots into the air near Fifth and Tilghman streets.

Earlier this week, amid growing criticism from people unhappy about the gun violence in the city, interim Allentown Police Chief Tony Alsleben announced he would be leaving his job early next month.

Wolf’s announcement said his executive action would focus on new oversight and data sharing, community gun violence reduction, fighting mass shootings, and addressing gun suicides and gun-related domestic problems.

Among other things, Wolf said he will create new state offices focused on violence prevention and reduction and expand programs that promote safety.

Wolf also said he would push the Legislature to pass bills related to gun safety, something it has done little of recently.

He called on lawmakers to pass bills related to safe storage of guns and a requirement for universal background checks for all gun purchases. He also supports a so-called “red flag law” that would establish protection orders that would allow judges to temporarily revoke the rights to buy or possess guns of people deemed dangerous.

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A spokesman for House Republicans, Mike Straub, said he would wait to see the details of Wolf’s proposals before giving a general reaction.

He said it was “worth pointing out that Pennsylvania’s background checks are already beyond those that are required by the federal government” but also that “you will find plenty of people who will see room for improvement.”

Millions of gun owners in Pennsylvania, he said, “own their guns responsibly, every day.”

Republican Rep. Todd Stephens of Montgomery County, prime sponsor of a red flag bill, said Wednesday he believed the time was right for passage. His bill, which was passed last session by the House Judiciary Committee but failed to get further action, would allow family members or police to ask a judge to hold a hearing to determine whether an individual is in crisis and should be temporarily disarmed.

“For many of these mass shooters, there are warning signs, and we need a mechanism in place so people can take action when they see those warning signs,” Stephens said.

Democrat Rep. Perry Warren of Bucks County has crafted a bill that would eliminate nearly all exceptions to the requirement for universal background checks in all gun purchases, as well as one on safe storage.

He noted that the governor’s anticipated action comes alongside the state Senate Judiciary Committee’s plan to hold hearings related to gun violence and statements by federal lawmakers of both parties in support of gun-violence legislation.

Warren said, “The time is now.”

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