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Wolf calls for tougher gun laws after synagogue shooting

January 29, 2019
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Diana Reynolds, telling of the shooting death of her son, wipes a tear while speaking at a rally in the Pennsylvania Capitol's rotunda calling for lawmakers to take action on anti-gun violence legislation on Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2019 in Harrisburg, Pa. (AP Photo/Marc Levy)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — With family members of gun violence victims by his side, Gov. Tom Wolf renewed his call Tuesday for lawmakers to toughen Pennsylvania’s gun laws, now three months after a truck driver walked into a Pittsburgh synagogue and fatally shot 11 people.

The anti-gun violence rally with Wolf comes at the start of the Republican-controlled Legislature’s new two-year session, and as a top Republican lawmaker suggested that agreement might be found on mental health interventions, rather than gun control.

The shooting in the Tree of Life synagogue is deemed to be the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history, and anti-violence advocates cannot recall a deadlier modern-day mass shooting in Pennsylvania.

Wolf, a Democrat, has long supported a wide range of gun-control and anti-violence measures, and told the rally crowd in the Capitol’s Rotunda that gun violence is unacceptable as an everyday part of American life. Pennsylvania’s lawmakers and Congress must act, he said.

“It is not just synagogues in Pittsburgh that are at risk,” Wolf said. “It’s churches in Lancaster, it’s mosques in Allentown, it’s schools in Erie, it’s movie theaters in Johnstown, it’s concert halls in Philadelphia, colleges in Scranton and even streets in Harrisburg.”

Among those joining Wolf was Jo Schlesinger, whose ex-husband was badly wounded in Oct. 27′s synagogue shooting, and a Pittsburgh trauma surgeon, Dr. Raquel Forsythe, who helped treat the victims of that shooting.

Last year was something of a breakthrough for the state Legislature, which is historically protective of gun rights.

After years of lobbying by violence-prevention groups, lawmakers passed a bill to force people in Pennsylvania with a domestic violence ruling against them to more quickly surrender their guns.

Wolf signed it in October, making it Pennsylvania’s first anti-violence legislation in more than a decade that deals directly with firearms.

A bill already introduced in the Legislature’s new session would expand background checks on firearms in Pennsylvania and end an exception for private sales of shotguns, sporting rifles and semi-automatic rifles, known as the “gun show” loophole.

Other bills expected to be introduced would ban assault weapons and limit magazine capacity. Another would create an “extreme risk protection order” that allows a law enforcement officer, a family member or a household member to petition a judge to order the immediate, if temporary, seizure of someone’s firearms.

House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said Tuesday that Pennsylvania already has fairly comprehensive background checks and that the vast majority of gun crimes are committed by someone who bought the firearm illegally in the first place.

Speaking at the Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon, Cutler also said some of the atrocities that have occurred in other states wouldn’t have happened in Pennsylvania. A background check would have flagged something, such as the killer’s mental health history or a domestic violence restraining order, Cutler said.

But, he said, he suggested agreement between Wolf and lawmakers can be found on the issue of mental health interventions and reaching people much sooner.

“So I think it’s important to focus on what would produce real results and also focus on those things that I think could find solutions,” Cutler said.

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This story has been corrected to show that Wolf was joined by the ex-wife, not the wife, of a man wounded in the synagogue shooting.

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