HARRISBURG - In what has become an annual exercise in the Capitol, lawmakers who support tighter gun control measures - most from Philadelphia - put their quixotic agenda before their fellow legislators.
It happened again Tuesday as the House Judiciary Committee considered a flurry of gun-related bills; one that would expand the rights of gun owners and three that would limit them.
The legislation that passed would broaden the so-called "castle doctrine," which offers protections to homeowners who shoot intruders who enter a dwelling. The measure that passed the committee, with support from Democrats, would now apply to intruders on a porch or deck or in a vehicle.
This measure goes to the full House for consideration but has not been scheduled for debate.
The three gun-control measures failed, as similar ones do every time they are raised in the Legislature, on a nearly annual basis, with votes breaking largely along rural vs. urban lines.
The sponsor of those measures, Rep. W. Curtis Thomas (D., Phila.), rolled out poll results and fatality statistics, but was unable to sway even many Democrats on the committee. The three proposals, which went down in overwhelming defeat, would have banned AK-47 assault weapons, allowed municipalities to enact their own gun ordinances, and set up a bureau of illegal firearms tracking in the Attorney General's Office.
Thomas pledged to come back another day. "This is an issue that is not dead and will not go away," he said. "We are going to have to deal with it. We don't have enough prisons."
Hours after Thomas' bills failed, another Philadelphia-area Democrat took a crack at addressing a gun issue.
At a news conference, Rep. Bryan R. Lentz of Delaware County introduced a bill that would prohibit Pennsylvania residents from carrying a concealed firearm unless they had been issued a permit in this state. Such a bill would prevent the practice that allows people to carry weapons licensed in another state.
Flanked by law enforcement officers, including Philadelphia's Deputy Police Commissioner William Blackburn, Lentz said too many Pennsylvania residents who have been denied weapons permits apply by mail to Florida or other states with which the commonwealth has reciprocity agreements.
Lentz and others were quick to say that theirs was not an antigun bill, but a pro-police bill aimed at giving law enforcement officers the tools they need to prosecute crimes.
"The law now is a get-out-of-jail-free card in the form of a Florida permit," said Lentz, who is running for Congress in the Seventh District. "They send you on your way with permit and the gun. This law ends that loophole."
Blackburn cited an incident in North Philadelphia last year where a police officer was shot and wounded. One of many guns retrieved at the scene was connected to someone with nine prior arrests who had permits from Florida and New Hampshire, Blackburn said.
The out-of-state permits allow people to "completely circumvent Pennsylvania law," he said.
The National Rifle Association and the state Attorney General's Office issued a swift rebuke, saying they did not believe a problem exists and defending the permitting process in other states.
"States don't just hand out permits to criminals. To get a permit you have to be able to own a firearm," said NRA lobbyist John Hohenwarter, who said he had not yet read Lentz's bill. "There's no data to indicate there is a problem in Pennsylvania."
Lentz and Joe Grace, executive director of the gun control group Ceasefire PA, said there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence of incidents where police were unable to arrest known criminals for weapons violations at traffic stops or at crime scenes because they had valid Florida permits to carry a gun.