Coming back to Harrisburg last week in the wake of a mass shooting in Isla Vista, Calif., the General Assembly, despite having so much last-minute work to do - passage of a budget, education funding, state pensions - somehow found time to pass legislation to make the Pennsylvania long rifle, which dates back to the Revolutionary War - the official firearm of Pennsylvania.
Now we have nothing against the historic long rifle. In fact, we are thankful - and perhaps, somewhat surprised - that some legislators did not select the assault weapon. (Though some members are pushing to allow semiautomatic assault rifles to be used for hunting coyotes, foxes, and woodchucks.)
What is completely unacceptable, however, is that the legislature found time to salute the long rifle, but has done nothing to enact any gun-violence prevention measures since the mass shooting in Sandy Hook on Dec. 14, 2012. The legislature goes merrily along, seeing no evil and doing nothing to protect Pennsylvanians from evil.
To the contrary, when employers try to protect their employees by prohibiting guns on company property, including parking lots, members of the legislature try to prohibit such bans - despite the rise in workplace violence. Twice last week, amendments to strip employers of the right to make policies on their property were amended to unrelated bills. One was ruled out of order, the other was withdrawn, but there have been promises to bring up these "guns in parking lots" bills again next week.
More than 1,300 people die every year in this commonwealth by guns - from homicides, suicides, and accidents. Does that statistic prompt our elected officials in Harrisburg to finally debate and vote on expanding the background check system or passing a requirement to report lost or stolen weapons? No, those bills remain in lockdown in committee.
The fanatical argument that we are safer with any type of gun for everyone, anywhere, and at any time was undercut again just Thursday afternoon in Seattle. A gunman armed with a shotgun was overpowered during his rampage by good guys armed only with pepper spray and their own strength.
Pennsylvania should be ashamed. For Harrisburg to have done nothing to make us safer, to even try to address the problem of gun violence, is shameful. At the same time, for Harrisburg to have spent valuable time on designating a state firearm is embarrassing.
Unfortunately, it's not surprising given the chokehold the gun lobby has had on the legislature.
We must make our voices heard. And, fortunately, that is now happening. Hundreds of Pennsylvanians contacted their legislators to oppose the "guns in parking lots" amendments. Thousands of contacts have been made requesting support and a vote for an expanded background check system. Sooner rather than later, Harrisburg is going to have to start defining its priorities by what the people want.
Pennsylvania's congressional delegation in Washington is figuring that out. Last year, Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey were leading the effort to expand the national background check system. And just last week, after receiving hundreds of calls and e-mails from their constituents, 16 out of the 18 U.S. representatives from Pennsylvania voted in favor of an appropriations amendment that would increase funding for the national background check system. Only one - Rep. Scott Perry - voted no. (Rep. Bill Shuster did not vote.)
Our representatives in Washington finally seem to get it, though much work remains there. And we know that we are sending loud and clear messages to Harrisburg as well. We must continue to do so.
Since Sandy Hook, there have been 74 school shootings, including just yesterday in Oregon. And the daily toll of gun violence in our cities and towns has not abated. It will be a sad legacy if, post-Sandy Hook, the number of deaths and casualties from gun violence continues to rise and all the General Assembly could muster the courage to do is designate an official state firearm.