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Amid a spike in shootings, Pa. legislators are giving us the kinds of gun laws that we don’t need | Opinion

Gov. Wolf is expected to veto a bill that would allow state residents to carry concealed handguns without a permit. That the measure made it this far should alarm us all, writes Adam Garber.

Lawmakers in Harrisburg on the floor of the Pennsylvania House in April. The legislature last week passed a bill allowing Pennsylvanians to carry concealed handguns without a permit. Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to veto it.
Lawmakers in Harrisburg on the floor of the Pennsylvania House in April. The legislature last week passed a bill allowing Pennsylvanians to carry concealed handguns without a permit. Gov. Tom Wolf is expected to veto it.Read moreMatt Rourke / AP

Each year, roughly 1,500 Pennsylvanians lose their lives to a rapidly rising epidemic of gun violence. In our city, these deaths are hollowing out a generation of Philadelphians with 60% more shooting victims under 18 so far this year than in all of 2019. There isn’t a part of the commonwealth from York to Erie to Pittsburgh that isn’t seeing the same deadly violence. But instead of debating numerous evidence-based solutions, the Pennsylvania General Assembly voted this month to make our commonwealth an even less safe place to live.

Senate Bill 565, known as permitless carry, would allow anyone over age 18 to carry a loaded, concealed handgun in public without a permit.

Let that sink in a minute.

The person next to you on the subway, at the deli counter, or at the grocery store could have a hidden firearm. Such a law would dismantle the existing concealed carry permit process, which includes enhanced safeguards to help law enforcement ensure concealed firearm carriers do not endanger public safety. It would also allow for open carry of a firearm without a permit in the City of Philadelphia.

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There is no argument that gun violence has increased in Pennsylvania. A recent FBI analysis showed a 27% increase in homicides statewide in 2020. In Philadelphia, homicides are up 12% in 2021 over 2020′s record-breaking year of violence. And while that might seem like the high mark, other states that have adopted permitless concealed carry make it clear it can get worse.

A 2017 study by the National Bureau of Economic Research showed that permitless carry laws are associated with as much as a 15% increase in aggregate violent crime rates 10 years after adoption, with rates increasing each additional year the law was in place.

It’s why the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association and the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association have opposed the policy because it would put both the community and law enforcement officers at greater risk.

The risk is not only about community-level violence. SB 565 lowers the age for concealed carry to 18. When Missouri lowered the minimum age to 19 for concealed carry, firearm suicide increased 7.2% among people aged 19 to 24.

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This dangerous legislation removes a key public safety mechanism in Philadelphia. Right now, you can only openly carry a firearm in the city if you have a license, but under this legislation, anyone could carry a firearm openly.

SB 565 was passed by the state House last week despite bipartisan opposition. Gov. Tom Wolf has already pledged to veto it as part of his work to keep communities safe from gun violence. This measure isn’t the only threat in the General Assembly that jeopardizes the safety of Pennsylvanians.

Backers of Senate Bill 448 want to punish local officials who try to enact ordinances to save the lives of their residents. SB 448 would force towns that try to enact allowable, evidence-based gun safety policies to pick up the tab for the gun lobby in court if those measures face a legal challenge. Faced with the increased threat of lawsuits from well-funded out-of-state groups, it would have a chilling effect on the willingness of local policymakers to try to improve community safety.

SB 448 passed in the Senate and now is being reviewed by a legislative committee in the House.

Although it appears SB 565 won’t make it past the governor’s desk, we should all be alarmed that it’s come this far. It’s time our elected officials turn to the numerous solutions awaiting discussion and action in Harrisburg, not continuing to enact these kinds of dangerous measures. It’s imperative that Pennsylvanians make it clear that no matter where we live, the only thing standing in the way of treatment to this public health crisis is the political will to act.

Putting the financial health of municipalities at the whim of state gun industry lobbyists is poor public policy. Doing it while enacting a law that will likely lead to local officials attending even more funerals for their constituents is a failure of government’s first responsibility: ensuring the safety of its people.

Adam Garber is executive director of CeaseFirePA Education Fund, a gun violence prevention advocacy organization.