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PA gov. vetoes bills protecting carrying, selling guns during disasters

Gov. Wolf (Governor Tom Wolf/Released)
December 01, 2020

Democrat Governor of Pennsylvania Tom Wolf vetoed two gun bills on Wednesday that sought to prevent firearm businesses and gun-carrying rights from being shut down or limited during emergency declarations.

The bills, designed to limit the governor’s shut-down power for the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic and beyond, passed the General Assembly with primarily Republican support and Democrat opposition, The Associated Press reported.

Wolf, who previously advocated for more gun control measures and strongly opposed the bills limiting his power, has vetoed over a half-dozen similar bills.

“The current disaster declarations in place are meant to help the administration fight the public health crises at hand and have no impact on citizens and their firearm rights,” Wolf’s office said in a statement on November 19, the Daily Pennsylvanian reported.

The Republican-controlled Senate passed both bills with 29-20 votes on November 18, and each went on to receive approval in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Just one Democrat voted in favor of the bills and just one Republican voted against them.

The first bill, HB1747, sought to repeal a provision of emergency declaration law that states “no person shall carry a firearm upon the public streets or upon any public property.”

Representative Matthew Dowling, a Republican from Fayette and the bill’s sponsor, said he believes the law could stop people from openly carrying a gun, which is not banned in Pennsylvania.

“While the powers repealed under this legislation were not utilized in response to the COVID-19 disaster emergency, the ongoing pandemic underscores the need for flexibility in the law to deal with unforeseen and unfathomable situations,” Wolf wrote in a message regarding his veto.

The second bill would prevent the governor and other public officials from limiting gun sales during an emergency, including shutting down firearms businesses like retailers, manufacturers, shooting ranges, clubs, and hunting preserves. Under current laws, governors can invoke a disaster emergency to circumvent state regulations.

House Bill 2440, sponsored by Democrat William C. Kortz II from Allegheny County, sought to establish shooting ranges, sportsman clubs, hunting facilities and business relating to the sale and production of firearms and ammunition as “life-sustaining.”

“Instead of assisting with efforts to control the COVID-19 virus, this bill attempts to unnecessarily carve out shooting ranges, sportsman clubs, hunting facilities and the firearm industry from any mitigation efforts,” Wolf said in a message. “This bill represents another meaningless attempt to alter the necessary tools for fighting the pandemic.”

In March, Pennsylvania implemented a statewide stay-at-home order amid the COVID-19 pandemic that allowed only essential businesses to remain open. After the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania put pressure on the Democrat governor, Wolf allowed gun retailers to reopen.

Earlier this year, Wolf called on the Pennsylvania legislature to support increased gun control in the state, pushing for stricter reporting requirements on lost and stolen firearms and required universal background checks.