Pennsylvania's Failed Bump Stock Ban Far From Dead

AP Photo/Allen G. Breed, File

Pennsylvania has a divided legislature. That means that in this case, the House can pass pretty much whatever it wants, but unless the GOP-controlled Senate agrees, it's going nowhere.

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Divisions like this stymie legislation in many ways, but since there are way too many laws governing way too many things, no one has yet to convince me this is a terrible thing.

And in Pennsylvania, it worked out well for gun rights. Gun control legislation was stopped, but a couple of measures--including a bump stock ban--may not be as dead as we'd like to see.

Two bills aimed at tightening up Pennsylvania’s gun laws failed to pass by the narrowest of margins earlier this month, but House leadership vows to continue efforts to advance legislation they say will reduce violent crimes involving firearms. 

Each bill missed the required 102 votes to pass by just one, and all Democrats supported the bills except for Rep. Frank Burns, D-Johnstown. He didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment.

House Bill 335 defines accelerated trigger activators, or bump stocks, as “a part or combination of parts” that make a semi-automatic weapon – which requires a trigger pull each time a round is fired – perform like a machine gun, which does not.

In 2019, the federal government criminalized bump stocks in the wake of a Las Vegas outdoor concert shooting that left 60 people dead and wounded over 400 others. Fourteen weapons confiscated from the gunman’s hotel room were reportedly equipped with the devices.

Republicans say passing such a bill duplicates federal law, but Democrats claim it is not enough to prosecute offenders in Pennsylvania. 

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Is it, though?

I mean, sure, states can't prosecute federal crimes, but is there a lack of prosecutions for bump stock possession? Are there even arrests for bump stock possession by state authorities?

No, I think this is because they know that the ATF's rule on bump stocks is likely to be overturned by the courts and they're trying to dig in.

Let's remember that bump stocks have been used in precisely one crime that I've been able to find. Granted, that was Las Vegas, which was beyond awful, but there really hasn't been anything before or since.

The other measure that's not quite dead is a requirement for gun stores to submit gun sales records electronically to the state, versus by mail as they currently do. Proponents say it'll make tracing easier--which is only beneficial for tracing to the first point of sale. Pennsylvania doesn't have universal background checks, after all--while proponents take issue with personal information being transferred in such a manner and say it's a violation of their rights.

Let's be clear, what this bill will do is establish the basis for gun registration. Background checks are required for all handgun sales, for example, and that means all of these electronic records suddenly become a database from which official can determine who lawfully possesses a firearm and who doesn't.

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That's a bad thing, naturally.

As things stand, both bills are effectively dead, but they are likely to rise from the dead via legislative necromancy in the next session.

So buckle up, folks. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

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