I made these comments on the floor of the Senate as I offered an amendment to Special Session House Bill 110. My amendment contained the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act of 1995.
This legislation is the result of several statewide hearings held by the Select Committee to Investigate Automatic and Semi-Automatic Firearms, of which I was the Chairman. My amendment was amended by other members of the Senate and passed 50-0. This legislation is now Special Session Act 17 of 1995.
Mr. President, first of all, a little bit of history about amendment A2571. I would first like to thank all of the members of the committee who studied this issue with me. This originally started out as the Committee on Semiautomatic and Automatic Firearms in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, which was originated by an amendment by Representative Ryan in the House of Representatives. the members included myself, the gentleman from Bucks, Senator Heckler, and the gentleman from Mercer, Senator Robbins, from this Chamber, and from the House were Representative James and Representative Merle Phillips. Also, the committee was broad-based, it was bipartisan. There were members who were advocates of gun control and members who were advocates of no gun control. The National Rifle Association had a member on the committee, the United Sportsmen of Pennsylvania has a member on the Committee, Handgun Control, Inc., had a member on the committee, the Attorney General's Office was represented, as was the Governor's Office and numerous other groups.
Mr. President, we went through this Commonwealth and conducted hearings on the issues of not only semiautomatic and automatic firearms but the issues in general of firearms and crime was they pertained to the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. We did this on numerous occasions. The hearings were quite lengthy. We had experts come in from around the country espousing both sides of the issue.
Mr. President, the objective and goal of the committee from the very first day was to try to craft legislation which would be a model not only for Pennsylvania but for the rest of the nation to follow that would address the true issue of firearms and crime. Mr. President, we learned through this committee process and through these hearings that so-called assault weapons bans were really not effective in deterring crimes, and that at the time was the major issue. We learned that people were more inclined to commit crimes if they were habitual drunkards than they were if they were just mentally ill. Most people dealt with the Sylvia Seagrist situation and we had this fear of mentally ill people having guns, but we found out that even more important than that were people who had alcoholic problems.
Mr. President, we strove for a way to deal with illegal gun sales, which we determined was, in fact, the most important contributory factor to crime. And it is ironic, Mr. President, that just this weekend the national statistics on crime came out and we found that crime in general is down. It is down in the city of Philadelphia. It is down in most major places, but the crime of homicide among teenage youths taking guns and shooting each other with them is up substantially. The committee found, Mr. President, that by and large, those guns were obtained illegally.
And then we looked into the process of how one does that and what are the consequences. What we found, to our surprise, Mr. President, is that in this State there is hardly any penalty whatsoever for selling a gun illegally. And at the same time, there is a substantial reward to the criminal who wants to do that. And as it is with any crime that is committed, a criminal always sits back and says, on the one hand, he plugs into the equation, gee, how much money can I make out of this? In this case, it is substantial. You can buy a legitimate gun for $50 or $60 and sell it on the street for $200 or $300.
The second question the criminal asks is, gee, what is the penalty if I get caught? What we found out in Pennsylvania is that if you did get caught and if you were prosecuted, the most it would be for is a misdemeanor, and as a result, in today's crime waves that are going on with violent crime, there is not one person in Pennsylvania's penal system who is there for selling a gun illegally. Even though our prisons are overpopulated and we do not know what to do with people, we do not have anybody in there for selling a gun illegally. So as a result, you now have a crime that is financially rewarding on the one hand, and there is very little risk of any incarceration or punishment on the other side. We felt that that was the major problem in Pennsylvania.
So, Mr. President, we originally drafted Senate Bill No. 6 in the Special Session, which is now before you as an amendment. And what this amendment does is, A, it expands the categories of convicted criminals who would be prohibited from owing firearms. We found that there were a number of crimes that you could commit and still be allowed to own a firearm. In addition, we established a computerized instant background check system for all firearm purchases in Pennsylvania.
And then we did what we thought was the heart of the bill, and that is we increased significantly criminal sanctions for the unlawful sale and ownership of firearms. Mr. President, what we did was we added to the list of violent crimes rape, arson, crimes of violence, that if you committed those crimes and were convicted, you would not be allowed to purchase a firearm.
Mr. President, in addition, we restricted the ability to buy firearms of people who have committed violent crimes while they were juveniles. In addition, we prevented people from being able to buy firearms who had been adjudicated incompetent or had been involuntarily committed to a mental institution by a court of law. In addition, we restricted the ability to buy firearms for those people who were convicted of three or more drug offenses or DUI offenses within a 5-year period. And we also said that individuals who are currently fugitives from justice cannot buy firearms. Ironically, our current firearm laws in Pennsylvania do not prohibit a fugitive from justice from going in and buying a firearm.
Mr. President, what we did on the transfer system is we established an agency within the Pennsylvania Department of State Police that would be called the Firearm Ownership Control Bureau, and the way it would work is there would be a separate data bank put together that would be held in absolute confidence. In fact, any divulging of information from that data bank would be a felony. In that data bank, for the first time in Pennsylvania's history, would be the record of juvenile convictions for violent crimes, as well as the court records for individuals who have been involuntarily committed to mental institutions because of their problems.
Mr. President, one of the more controversial things that we did in the amendment was we retained Pennsylvania's 48-hour waiting period, which has been around for 66 years, which I am sure we will address later when the gentleman from Mercer, Senator Robbins, starts his amendment process.
The most significant thing we did in here, however, was on the illegal transfer of firearms. Not only did we raise that crime from a misdemeanor to a felony, but most importantly, we now hold sellers criminally liable for any criminal act committed with an illegally sold gun when they have reason to know that the gun will be used in the commission of a crime. That is on the cutting edge in this nation. Mr. President, this now means that if you want to sell that gun illegally, out of the trunk of your car, you may make $200 or $300 profit, but not only will you be guilty of a felony for the illegal transfer, but more importantly than that, when you sell that gun, and mainly to a juvenile, if you have reason to believe they could commit a crime with that gun, you are now an accessory before the fact of that crime. And if that juvenile goes out or anyone goes out and uses that gun and commits a murder, you are now an accessory before the fact to the crime of murder. That will have a chilling effect on the illegal sales of firearms in this Commonwealth.
Mr. President, we also mandate distribution of the Uniform Firearms Act and safety brochures when people purchase firearms, and that there would be also be developed a statewide method for reporting crime statistics, and we would mandate local enforcement officers to coordinate with the Pennsylvania State Police on this issue. What we found during the hearings is that there is no comprehensive statewide system in Pennsylvania for the reporting of crimes. We had a very difficult time trying to find out, for example in the crime of homicide, whether it was committed with a gun, by poison, whether there was a conviction, what was the age of the individual committing the crime, what was the age of the victim. Those statistics do not exist on a statewide basis. We were fortunate in the city of Pittsburgh to be able to get them from their police department and we were fortunate in the city of Philadelphia to be able to get those statistics from the Philadelphia Police Department, and we felt it was very important that we have that data on a statewide basis.
Mr. President, we ultimately produced a bill that was supported by the overwhelming majority of the committee. The National Rifle Association, and then after that the Pennsylvania Sportsmen, found problems with a few of the aspects of the bill and I feel that we will probably address those today in an amendment. But the bill itself is extremely important. If we are to combat crime and if we are to do something about crime prevention, which is something that I have argued about constantly on this floor in this Special Session, rather than just deal with the criminals after they are caught, we have to do something beforehand to prevent that crime from being committed in the first place. I do not say that this bill will be the answer to all our crime problems in Pennsylvania, but I do honestly believe that the types of penalties in here and the people we have gone after -- criminal misuse of firearms, not legal use of firearms -- in this bill will substantially reduce the flow of illegal firearms in this Commonwealth, and that will have a direct impact upon crimes committed with those firearms.
Mr. President, I offer this amendment as a benefactor member of The National Rifle Association and as someone who has owned guns not only in my adult life but since I was teenager. I have hunted in this commonwealth, I have target shot, and I have a large gun collection. I was offended by the assault weapons ban that was passed in the city of Philadelphia and, subsequently, in other cities, and I led the fight in this Chamber to repeal that. I led the fight in this Chamber and the house to override the Governor's veto because I thought that kind of legislation was wrong. That was the feel-good kind of stuff that did not do a damned thing to prevent crime. But after we did that, I also knew that there was a problem out there, and that is why our committee went out to study the problem, not just look for a 15-second or 30-second sound bite that so many of our national politicians are looking for, but a real answer and a real solution to the problem of criminal misuse of firearms, and that is how we came up with this amendment.
I think this amendment is important for all law-abiding citizens, and in particular for gun owners, because gun owners take a bad rap. Gun owners are looked upon by the media as being so-called evil people, crazy crackpots, and everything else, but what we found in this Commonwealth is that gun owners by and large are good, decent, honest, law-abiding people who are offended by the image that they have gotten, and that is why I felt that it was important that we adopt legislation that would separate the criminal misuse of firearms from the legal use of firearms and, therefore, we have this amendment, Mr. President.
Senator Heckler and I have worked long on this. We do not want any prizes, but I want to make sure that the credit and/or blame, depending on your perspective, gets shared equally. Our staffs worked diligently, as did the staffs from the House, and I think we probably conducted, as was said many times, the best hearings that most members have ever sat in while they were members of the Senate or House. So we offer the amendment and ask for an affirmative vote on the amendment.
Thank you, Mr. President.
Copyright 2000 Sen. Vincent J. Fumo