PA Governor's "Common Sense" Gun Controls Don't Make Sense At All

(AP Photo/Chris Knight)

Gun control advocates are big on the idea that with just a few “common sense” tweaks to our gun laws, we can rid ourselves of the violence in our society. It’s more sloganeering than an actual solution, however, as Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has demonstrated.

Wolf threw out a tweet on Monday suggesting that there are some things that we should all be able to agree on when it comes to “gun safety”.

The problem with Wolf’s tweet is that his proposed gun control laws (and yes, these are gun control laws, not gun safety proposals) wouldn’t actually accomplish any of his goals.

Both storage laws and background check laws are reactive in nature, not proactive. You can put a storage law on the books, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going to be followed. Additionally, storage laws that prevent the lawful owner of a firearm from being able to readily access their gun for the purposes of self-defense have been found to be unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Why wouldn’t Wolf argue in favor of voluntary education and training programs designed to teach new gun owners how to safely store their firearms to prevent unauthorized access if need be? Because that’s not a priority for gun control activists, who want a new law and new criminal penalties imposed on those who legally own their firearms.

Universal background checks pose a similar problem. Pennsylvania actually has mandatory background check requirements on the sale of all handguns (long guns, however, do not require a background check for private transfers), but as you would expect, criminals simply ignore the law. Why wouldn’t they? Again, there’s no way to proactively enforce a universal background check measure to actually prevent private transfers from taking place. At best the law allows for a  charge after the fact, which means it’s worthless as a crime prevention tool.

As for “red flag” firearm seizure laws, does Gov. Wolf believe that someone who’s a danger to themselves or others should have access to a car? Knives? Gasoline and matches? Red flag or Extreme Risk Protection Orders are designed to take guns away from people a court has determined are threats, while leaving the dangerous person to their own devices.

What’s the point of taking a dangerous person’s gun away while doing nothing to address the fact that the person themselves are dangerous? The best evidence for the effectiveness of red flag laws that gun control activists can muster is a study suggesting that the law modestly reduces firearm-related suicides, but the states that have had these laws on the books for the longest period of time (Indiana and Connecticut) have seen their overall suicide rates increase since the law was put into effect.

Gov. Wolf is offering nothing more than “soundbite solutions”; easily digestible tweets that have no substance behind them whatsoever. Even worse, he’s offering up these proposals at the expense of tackling a real problem. Pennsylvania doesn’t have a red flag law on the books. You know what else it doesn’t have? Space to treat individuals suffering from a mental health crisis.

The coronavirus pandemic has created a mental health crisis as more people need help with anxiety and depression. A survey conducted in September by the National Council for Behavioral Health found that 52% of behavioral health organizations are seeing an increase in demand for services.

Yet the survey also found that 54% of organizations have had to close programsfor pandemic-related reasons, while 65% have had to cancel and reschedule appointments or turn away patients. Nearly a quarter surveyed cited financial hardship as a contributing factor.

Crisis centers and emergency departmentsat hospitals in the Philadelphia area are feeling the crunch as they are often the first stop for people in a mental health crisis. The next step is an inpatient mental health program for additional treatment or discharge if the patients are judged not to pose a danger to themselves or others.

The wait for a bed often took days even before the pandemic, particularly for children and adolescents. COVID-19 requirements and precautions, such as testing and quarantining, have made placements even harder. Plus,having to spend a lot of time in an emergency room can be especially overwhelming for someone in crisis, experts said, making it more difficult to treat the mental health symptoms.

“There have never been enough psychiatric stabilization beds for kids,” said Roy Leitstein, CEO of Legacy Treatment Services, a behavioral health provider with offices in South Jersey. “Not in New Jersey, not in Pennsylvania, not in the nation. The pandemic has created a whole other layer of challenges associated with those residential crisis stabilization services. The whole system has kind of stopped moving, through nobody’s fault.”

Oh, I think we can find fault with the politicians who’d rather “do something” instead of doing something that works (and comes with a price tag). It’s expensive to reform the mental health system to ensure that there’s enough space for those who need inpatient services. It’s much cheaper to slap a gun control law on the books. So what if it’s not effective? Politicians still get to take credit for doing something, and for too many of them, that’s a much bigger priority than improving public safety while protecting the civil rights of the Americans they purport to represent.