After every mass shooting or multiple shooting, we demand that lawmakers “do something.” Last week, the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee advanced a dozen gun related bills to the House floor. If these bills are what “something” looks like, we would rather that our lawmakers do nothing.
The judiciary committee, for example, did not advance any “red flag” bill -- legislation intended to allow the court to temporarily disarm people who are at risk to themselves or others -- that have a wide range of support from Gov. Tom Wolf, Montgomery County Republican Rep. Todd Stephens as well as advocacy groups such as CeaseFirePA and Moms Demand Action. Instead they advanced a bill that would require people who have been involuntarily committed due to a mental health crisis -- who are, according to research, not of high risk to hurt others -- to relinquish their firearms more quickly.
This bill, and a bill to expand the list of people prohibited from owning or possessing a gun to those convicted of “attempted” felonies -- and not only “successful” felonies -- advanced out of committee unanimously. The impact of these bills, however, doesn’t come close to the potential impact of the “red flag” bill, which Republicans on the judiciary committee say raises constitutional concerns.
Instead of sound gun control legislation such as closing background check loophole and requiring safe storage of guns, lawmakers instead advanced a bill to “ensure the protection of Second Amendment Rights during declarations of emergency" by repealing laws that allow for restriction of gun carrying during an emergency or disaster. The committee also advanced bills that would make it easier to travel in a motor vehicle with a firearm without a permit, remove the requirement that tasers have a label with an instruction of use, and allow individuals and organizations like the National Rifle Association to sue localities that pass gun related ordinances (a similar law passed in 2014 and the Pa. Supreme Court struck it down on procedural grounds).
But these aren’t even the worst. A slew of bills would reinstate mandatory minimum for gun related offenses, and require judges to stack the sentences when there are multiple charges or multiple victims, instead of allowing the sentences to be counted concurrently.
The research in criminology is clear: if you want to deter crime, swiftness and certainty of punishment is what matters -- not the severity of the sentence. Mandatory minimums do not make communities safer. They are, however, used as leverage to pressure plea deals -- robbing usually black and indigent defendants from their Sixth Amendment right to a fair and speedy trial. The mandatory minimums and stacking of sentences would also reverse the progress that the commonwealth -- to say nothing of the nation -- has achieved on reducing its prison population.