After the mass shooting in Las Vegas last week that left 58 dead – including at least one Pennsylvanian – and over 500 injured, Pennsylvania lawmakers have started the process of introducing legislation to ban so-called “bump stocks,” the after-market gun modifications that turn semi-automatic rifles into automatic weapons.
While automatic rifles are illegal to be owned by regular consumers, the modifications for the semi-automatic rifles are legal under federal and current state law – Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock used weapons with bump stocks.
Following the massacre, two Democratic state Reps. – Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Montgomery) and Rep. Dom Costa (D-Allegheny) – began the process of introducing legislation that would place “multi-burst trigger activators” like “bump stocks” under the state’s definition of “offensive weapons,” thereby making them illegal in Pennsylvania.
“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families in Sunday night’s shooting,” Dean said on Friday. “But I am also reminded of the words of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords: ‘The truth is, for those who have the power to act and to save lives, thoughts and prayers are not nearly enough.’ And as legislators, we do have the power and the responsibility to act. This is why we are putting forth legislation to ban weapons that have no place in civilian society – weapons that we have seen can kill and maim hundreds in a matter of minutes.”
Costa – a former Pittsburgh law enforcement officer and self-proclaimed “strong supporter” of Second Amendment Rights – added that no one without federal approval needs to have a weapon modified by the proposed banned devices.
“Our law enforcement officers should never have to face someone using a weapon that they cannot compete with or defend themselves against,” he said. “I feel it my duty and responsibility to our community and our law enforcement officers to take action through this legislation to protect them.”
Should their legislation be successfully enacted, the use of a multi-burst trigger device like a bump stock or binary trigger would carry with it a first-degree misdemeanor penalty.
The two House members were joined by a Republican state senator in their quest to ban bump stocks.
Sen. Pat Browne (R-Lehigh), Majority Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, circulated a cosponsorship memo on Friday that would make it illegal in Pennsylvania to import, purchase, sell, manufacture, transfer or possess bump stocks.
Like the House plan, Browne’s legislation would add bump stocks to the list of offensive weapons under Title 18, but goes a step further by prohibiting the import, purchase, sale, manufacture, transference or possession of the modification devices.
In introducing the legislation, Browne said the legislation would “protect the citizens of the Commonwealth” by banning the “unnecessary” apparatuses.
On the national level, the National Rifle Association has called on the federal government to regulate bump stocks and other similar modifications differently than other weapon components; however, the nation’s largest gun lobby has stopped short in recent days of supporting an outright legislatively mandated ban.
The Trump administration, according to reports, has said they will review the bump stock issue.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf Monday voiced his support for the two pieces of legislation that would ban the devices in the commonwealth, saying he hopes some form of a ban is sent to his desk quickly.
“Bipartisan legislators are rightfully sounding the alarm that these devices should not be legal in Pennsylvania. Given the bipartisan nature, this should be common sense for the General Assembly to swiftly pass to protect Pennsylvanians,” he said. “The massacre in Las Vegas was made worse by the shooter's ability to fire his military-grade weapons more rapidly at concertgoers and police. We can take a commonsense step to protect citizens and law enforcement by banning these unnecessary and dangerous accessories.”
Neither the House nor the Senate version of the legislation has been referred to a standing committee for review as of press time Tuesday and neither chamber of the General Assembly is expected back in Harrisburg for legislative action before Oct. 16.