Background checks keep guns out of the hands of criminals, the dangerously mentally ill, people with protection from abuse orders, and drug abusers. Since 1998, the National Instant Check System (NICS) has blocked more than 2 million sales to prohibited purchasers. And, since its inception, the PA Instant Check System (PICS) has blocked sales to almost 150,000 prohibited purchasers. Background checks are effective at enforcing the law and blocking firearms sales to people not legally allowed to buy or posses firearms.
But loopholes in the law enable some of these people to buy guns without background checks. Federal law governing background checks only regulates sales at federally licensed dealers, not private or unlicensed sellers. In Pennsylvania, all sales of handguns also require a background check, even private sales. But the private sales of long guns (including rifles, shotguns and semi-automatic military style rifles) are exempt from the background check requirement.
This doesn’t make sense and we can fix it.
On January 6, 2017, a bipartisan trio of state Representatives – Republican James Santora and Democrats Dom Costa (who was Pittsburgh’s Chief of Police prior to joining the state legislature) and Madeleine Dean–announced that they are introducing a new bill to close the long gun loophole. Similarly, on January 26, 2017, Sens. Vincent Hughes (D) and Thomas McGarrigle (R) introduced SB 209 and referred it to the Senate Judiciary Committee. These bills close the loophole and treat the private sale of long guns in PA the same as the private sale of handguns. Like the Bills from the 2015-16 session, these Bills include a provision making it easier for legal purchasers to make multiple sales at a weekend gun show.
Right now we are working to find cosponsors and support for SB 209 and the House companion bill. The current list of Senate co-sponsors can be found at http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/billInfo/bill_history.cfm?syear=2017&sind=0&body=S&type=B&bn=209. Right now, there are already more than 40 cosponsors on the as-yet-unnumbered state House bill.
Some relevant history for these bills: In July 2013, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the background checks system in PA, without focusing on specific bills. Our testimony about expanding the background check system and protecting PICS can be found in the resources below.
At the time of the hearing, the state House’s 2013-14 version of SB 209 was pending. That bill never made it out of the Judiciary Committee. However, on September 23, 2014, during a floor debate on another bill, the PA House of Representatives voted on an amendment that, for all intents and purposes, was SB 209. This amendment, if passed, would have expanded the PA background check to cover the private sale of long guns. Unfortunately, the amendment was defeated. The vote count can be found here.
In addition, we continue to work for reform at the federal level. Although the Manchin-Toomey bill (S.649) in the Senate that would have expanded background checks was unable to get a straight up or down vote in 2013, we are joining our national partners and other state groups in pushing for renewed action in the House and Senate. There must be efforts to expand the federal background check system to cover commercial sales beyond those that occur at a federally licensed dealer, including at gun shows, online intrastate sales, and other commercial transactions; expansion of protections for victims of domestic abuse, and strengthened efforts to fight trafficking.
- CeaseFirePA’s Testimony Transcript (pdf)
- SmartGunLaws.org on Background Checks ›
- Mayors Against Illegal Guns Fact Sheet on S. 649
- Mayors Against Illegal Guns Fact Sheet On HR 1565