Where Allegheny County’s Harrisburg delegation stands on gun control

Including closing a background check loophole and allowing guns in schools

The state capitol building in Harrisburg

The state capitol building in Harrisburg

Ken Marshall / Flickr
Sarah Anne Hughes

Both sides of the gun control debate had their say in Harrisburg this week, as lawmakers pushed legislation they say will make the state safer — for very different reasons.

On Tuesday, state lawmakers gathered to promote a bill that would require background checks for all firearms purchases. Currently, background checks aren’t required for the private sale of long guns like rifles and assault-style weapons. The bill was authored by Republican Rep. Jamie Santora and Democrats Madeleine Dean and Dom Costa of Pittsburgh, who was unable to attend Tuesday’s press conference.

“While there is no single solution to this terrible problem, there are measures we can take and must be taken, including increased access to funding for mental health services and reporting, enforcing gun laws we already have, but also enacting sensible legislation where there are gaps in our laws,” Dean said.

Costa, who was once Pittsburgh’s police chief and calls himself a Second Amendment supporter, said in a statement, “The majority of sportsmen and gun owners that I have spoken to agree with universal background checks for the purchase of any firearm.”

The day before, Allegheny County Republicans Jason Ortitay, Rick Saccone and Mike Turzai, as well as other lawmakers, attended a rally led by Butler’s Daryl Metcalfe to “Make the Second Amendment Great Again.”

“While we sleep, the other side works night and day to try and take away our constitutional rights,” Saccone said at the rally, according to the Associated Press.

Of all the pro-gun legislators from Allegheny County, Saccone is by far the most vocal. Among the bills he’s introduced this session:

  • HB169: Allows debtors to keep three firearms of their choosing from judgment collectors. “I hope you will join me in sponsoring this sensible exemption from judgments as a way of protecting the ability of individuals to exercise these constitutional rights and protect themselves regardless of their economic circumstances,” Saccone wrote in a co-sponsorship memo.
  • HB170: Allows constitutional carry, meaning any person who can legally own a gun can carry it without a permit. “This legislation defends the rights of the citizens in our Commonwealth and I urge you all to co-sponsor this legislation. Those Pennsylvanians that follow the law each day should not be punished or hindered if they choose to carry a firearm,” Saccone wrote in a co-sponsorship memo.
  • HB167: Adds “disparity of force” to the state’s stand your ground law, which currently requires the appearance of a “firearm or any other weapon readily or apparently capable of lethal use.” The legislation would allow a person to use lethal force if they feel outnumbered or if the other person has the “physical power [or] stature” to cause harm or death.
  • HB38: Amends the state’s Human Relations Act to add firearm ownership to the list of protected classes. “I believe that there are many landlords, employers and places of public accommodation with policies that preclude law-abiding gun owners from exercising their right keep and bear arms,” Saccone wrote in a co-sponsorship memo.

His bills have found co-sponsors among the Allegheny County delegation, both Democrats and Republicans.

Six county Democrats are backing this session’s universal background check bill, including Pittsburgh’s Dan Frankel. “I hope that this legislation will get a fair hearing, get a vote on the floor,” Frankel said at Tuesday’s press conference. “It’s time that we have an accounting of this bill in Harrisburg to see where our colleagues stand. … This is reasonable, this is timely. It’s about time we get it done.”

That feeling doesn’t extend to every Democrat in the Pa. House, at least not as of 2014. According to CeaseFire Pennsylvania, a nonprofit in favor of background checks, a failed amendment from that year would have closed the long gun loophole. Nine county Democrats voted against it.

PA Representative Party Co-sponsor universal background checks, HB 1400 2017-18 Co-sponsor constitutional carry, HB 170 2017-18 Vote on bill to supersede local gun laws, HB 671 2017-18 Co-sponsor background checks, HB 1010 2015-16 Vote on amendment to extend background checks to private sale of long guns, 2014
Adam Ravenstahl Democrat Yes Nay Yes Did not vote
Anita Astorino Kulik Democrat Yea Not in office Not in office
Anthony M. DeLuca Democrat Nay Nay
Dan Frankel Democrat Yes Did not vote Yes Yea
Dan L. Miller Democrat Nay Yes Yea
Daniel J. Deasy Democrat Yes Nay Yes Nay
Dom Costa Democrat Yes Yea Yes Nay
Ed Gainey Democrat Yes Nay Yes Yea
Frank Dermody Democrat Yea Nay
Harry Readshaw Democrat Yes Yea Nay
Jake Wheatley Jr. Democrat Yes Did not vote Yes Yea
Joseph F. Markosek Democrat Yea Nay
Marc J. Gergely Democrat Yea Nay
Paul Costa Democrat Nay Yes Yea
Robert F. Matzie Democrat Yea Nay
William C. Kortz II Democrat Yea Nay
Eli Evankovich  Republican Yea Nay
Harold A. English Republican Yea Nay
Jason Ortitay Republican Yes Yea Not in office
John Maher Republican Yea Nay
Mark Mustio Republican Yea Did not vote
Mike Turzai Republican Yea Nay
Rick Saccone Republican Yes Yea Nay

A Senate companion bill to the universal background check legislation is co-sponsored by just one Allegheny County state senator, Jay Costa.

A majority of Pennsylvania’s state senators, meanwhile, voted Monday to amend a bill that allows municipal school boards to authorize personnel to carry firearms in “school safety zones.” The amendment, offered by Rep. Martina White, exempted “information regarding specific school personnel permitted access to firearms in the buildings or on the grounds” from the state’s Right-to-Know law.

Both the House and Senate have approved bills this spring that challenge local gun ordinances that are tougher than existing state law. In both chambers, the bills received bipartisan support from Allegheny County lawmakers, including eight House Democrats.

PA Senator Party Co-sponsor universal background checks, SB209 2017-18 Vote on amendment to bill to allow guns in schools, SB 383 2017-18 Vote on bill to supersede local gun ordinances, SB 5 2017-18
Guy Reschenthaler Republican Yea Yea
James R. Brewster Democrat Yea Yea
Jay Costa Democrat Yes Nay Nay
Randy Vulakovich Republican Yea (co-sponsor) Yea
Wayne D. Fontana Democrat Nay Nay