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Pa., US lawmakers push for universal gun checks - abc27 WHTM

Pa., US lawmakers push for universal gun checks

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) -

Is there such a thing as "common sense" gun reform? Pennsylvania politicians from the State Capitol to Capitol Hill think so, and it could come soon.

"We cannot do nothing. To do nothing is an absolute copout," Eddie Pashinski said while pounding his fist on the podium. The State Representative from Luzerne County said people should be ashamed steps weren't taken sooner to help save lives.

Pashinski and two dozen other politicians and gun reform supporters filled the stage to introduce House Bill 1010.

Along with Attorney General Kathleen Kane, lawmakers presented bipartisan legislation that would require universal background checks in Pennsylvania.

Roughly around the same time in Harrisburg, US Senator Pat Toomey (R-Pennsylvania) was introducing a similar bill on Capitol Hill in Washington D.C.

Senators Toomey and John Manchin (D-West Virginia) stood side-by-side and presented their plan for universal background checks on a federal level.

You may have seen a television ad where the Mayor's Against Illegal Guns Coalition put pressure on Toomey to act on such gun reform measures.

However, during a one-on-one interview with abc27's Dave Marcheskie, Toomey said Wednesday's decision was his alone.

"I don't watch much television and I never saw the ad," he remarked. "This was part of a very thoughtful effort to try to find common ground and a common sense solution."

A recent survey done revealed 83 percent of Americans support universal background checks. Some feel public support may have swayed politicians.

Both Toomey's federal bill and House Bill 1010 in Pennsylvania would require a federally licensed firearms dealer to perform background checks on all gun purchases. If passed, the bill would close the so-called "gun show loophole".

Currently, Pennsylvania requires background checks on all handgun purchases. That includes all online and private sales at gun shows.

However, both bills have one exception—family transfers.

Toomey's bill is slightly more open in this exception. Background checks would not be required for gun purchases between "family members and close friends" as he states.

But when State Representative Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks County) was asked to define "family member," he did so by stating the bill would only allow immediate family members (i.e. spouse, son, daughter, grandparents).

According to US Bureau of Justice statistics, there are 6.6 million gun purchases a year completed without a licensed firearm dealer. Law enforcement agencies like the FBI state that most criminal purchase guns that way.

Bureau of Justice said 40 percent of all criminals' guns are straw purchases, someone with a clean record who buys a gun for another. According to the same federal agencies, most straw purchases involve family members.

"There are always concerns," said Santarsiero. "But again, we can't fall into the trap of not advocating important legislation because it's not going to be perfect."

Toomey said another bill would be introduced to crack down on straw purchases.

"There is no perfect solution to the problems we have," said Toomey. "I didn't want to impose that requirement on a personal transaction between friends and family members."

That imperfection is why National Rifle Association leaders came out against Toomey's bill. NRA leaders said universal background checks would not stop gun violence, nor would it have prevented mass killings such as Aurora and Newtown.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane said she understands gun violence will never be eliminated. Rather, the top cop states she wants to "reduce" gun violence.

"We won't [end gun violence]," said Kane. "I wish we could, but we cannot. And, as a part of law enforcement, the fact that we can reduce gun violence means a lot to me."

Kane spoke briefly and left the press conference following her comments. She was unavailable for questions.

Santarsiero did take questions and said despite only having two Republicans on board with House Bill 1010, he was confident there was enough support for the bill to eventually pass.

Toomey was in the same boat, even with his own party. Only five Senate Republicans were in favor of the federal bill. ABC World News reported 13 Republicans vowed to filibuster the bill if it reached the senate floor. Some reports suggest there may be enough Democrats needed for this to pass.

If Congress did pass the bill, the state bill would be obsolete. But, as Santarsiero put it, "I'm not going to wait for Congress to do anything."

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