Why Pa. Won’t Pass Stricter Gun Laws After the Orlando Massacre

In this era of political partisanship, both Democratic and Republican leaders in Harrisburg are beloved by the NRA.

We already know Congress probably won’t enact stricter gun laws in the wake of the worst mass shooting in United States history. It didn’t after Adam Lanza murdered 20 elementary schoolers in 2012, after all; it’s hard to imagine what would be a catalyst for change if that wasn’t. But what about Pennsylvania? Is there a chance the General Assembly will starting requiring background checks for private gun sales, or ensure that it takes residents longer than five minutes to buy the Orlando shooter’s gun of choice, an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle?

Gun control advocates: Sorry, but nope. Not happening. Not under this state legislature.

Gun lovers: Despite what you may have heard, you’ve got nothing to worry about!

The National Rifle Association has a friend in Pennsylvania’s GOP-controlled General Assembly. In its regular “report cards” for lawmakers, the lobbying group gave Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai a perfect grade of A+, Republican House Majority Leader Dave Reed an A, and Republican House Majority Whip Bryan Cutler an A, according to VoteSmart.org’s database of NRA scores. Republican Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman got an A+ and Republican Senate Whip John Gordner got an A, as well.

It’s not just top Republicans who are in good standing with the NRA. In the proudly pro-gun state of Pennsylvania, the two highest-ranking Democrats in the House have received top marks from the group, too. Democratic Minority Leader Frank Dermody has an A grade from the NRA; so does Democratic Whip Michael Hanna.

Pennsylvania is so pro-gun that, in many parts of the state, the first day of deer-hunting season is a school holiday. Pennsylvania is so pro-gun that the NRA has donated more money to Congressional members in the Commonwealth than in any other state in the Northeast; it ranks No. 5 nationwide. Pennsylvania is so pro-gun that the NRA has given more than $435,000 to state-level candidates here (Republicans and Democrats alike!) in the last decade. Pennsylvania is so pro-gun that, as of 2013, it was home to more NRA members than any other state in the country, and had the second-highest number of concealed weapons permits after Florida.

Pennsylvania is so pro-gun that, in 2014, the General Assembly passed a bill to allow the NRA to sue municipalities that enact gun laws that are stricter than the state’s rules. That legislation passed 138-56 in the House, and 34-14 in the Senate. (A Commonwealth Court struck the law down last year, but the state has appealed the decision.)

So, yeah, Pennsylvania is probably keeping the gun laws it has (or it could end up with looser ones). Here are a few of them: You don’t need a license or permit to own a gun in the state. There is no gun registry here. There is a “stand your ground” rule. There is no requirement for gun owners to alert the authorities if their firearms are lost or stolen. And there are background checks only some of the time — even if most of you don’t want it to be that way.

Right now, though background checks are required for the sale of handguns in Pennsylvania, they aren’t mandated for the private purchases of AR-15s and other “long guns.” But according to a survey by Public Policy Polling just released last Friday, 85 percent of residents favor background checks on all gun sales. That includes 92 percent of Democrats, 80 percent of Republicans, and 76 percent of independents. But in the current state legislature, a bill to tighten background checks would never pass.

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