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Wolf unveils gun violence effort after Philadelphia shooting

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    Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, gives an emotional speech prior to Gov. Tom Wolf signing an executive order to reduce gun violence during a ceremony on Friday in Harrisburg. JOE HERMITT/THE PATRIOT-NEWS VIA AP

Published August 19. 2019 12:12PM

HARRISBURG— Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf directed state police and other agencies under his control Friday to focus greater efforts on addressing gun violence, two days after a gunman shot six Philadelphia police officers.

Wolf set up a new Special Council on Gun Violence and gave it six months to recommend how to reduce mass shootings, domestic violence, suicides and accidental shootings.

He also established the Office of Gun Violence Prevention at the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and delinquency and a violence prevention division within the Health Department.

The announcement had been planned for Thursday, but was rescheduled after the nearly eight-hour standoff in Philadelphia that left the officers with injuries not considered life-threatening. A suspect, later identified as Maurice Hill, who fired at police from inside a building before finally surrendering was charged with attempted murder over the weekend.

Wolf said state police will expand and support gun buy-back programs and increase monitoring of hate groups and white nationalists.

His state police commissioner, Col. Robert Evanchick, said he will set up a task force to consider what steps to take regarding gun buy-back efforts.

The Office of Gun Violence Prevention will work to deter shootings in areas with high rates of violence and coordinate the reporting of lost and stolen guns to police.

The governor’s office says more than 1,600 people died of gunshot wounds in Pennsylvania in 2017.

House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, who represents a Philadelphia district, recounted how this year in his city there have been eight cases in which at least four people were shot — with victims who were walking down the street, waiting for takeout food, attending a graduation party and gathering to shoot a music video.

“I have to go home to a place where my life is not safe, and there’s far too many Pennsylvanians doing that on a daily basis,” Harris said.

Wolf, a Democrat, also urged the Republican-controlled General Assembly to enact standards for safe gun storage, pass a “red flag” high-risk protection order bill and require state-level universal background checks for gun buyers.

Wolf signed an executive order flanked by activists and Democratic state lawmakers but was not joined by any Republican senators or representatives, a reflection of the polarized nature of gun issues in the politically divided General Assembly.

Sen. Lisa Baker, a Luzerne County Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 24-25 on behavioral health, Second Amendment gun rights and related issues.

Baker said last week that all government officials should be looking for ways to end the plague of mass shootings.

“Taking symbolic steps sends a message, but it ultimately does not save lives,” Baker wrote. “Something unworkable or unenforceable or unable to withstand a legal challenge does not provide the real protection our constituents are demanding.”

House Republican spokesman Mike Straub said violent firearms offenses have fallen by nearly 40% in the state in the past 13 years.

He said the Pennsylvania firearm purchase background checks already exceed what is required by the federal government and argued the Philadelphia police shooting “proves once again that criminals will not follow changes we make to existing firearm laws.”

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