(The Center Square) – Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed legislation that would have allowed residents to carry a concealed firearm without a license, claiming the measure would exacerbate gun violence in the commonwealth.
“This legislation removes the requirement that an individual obtain a license, and with it, the ability of law enforcement to conduct a background investigation,” Wolf said. “Removal of the licensing background investigation will hinder the ability of law enforcement to prevent individuals who should not be able to carry a firearm concealed from doing so.
“Domestic abusers and other dangerous criminals should not have the ability to carry hidden weapons in our communities,” he said.
Republicans in the General Assembly have argued that criminals do not adhere to the law, and subjecting citizens to an approval process by county sheriffs violates their constitutional right to keep and bear arms.
Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, R-Bellefonte, reiterated those points in a statement expressing his disappointment with the governor’s decision.
“It is disappointing that Governor Wolf vetoed this bill to reinforce the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Pennsylvanians. Citizens deserve to have the peace of mind to know they can defend themselves against violent crime,” Corman said. “Vetoing this bill does nothing to make Pennsylvania safer. Criminals do not care about permits. The only people harmed by Governor Wolf’s veto are the citizens who follow the law.”
Republicans in the General Assembly approved Senate Bill 565 largely along party lines in late November, shortly before Thanksgiving break, despite Wolf’s promise to veto the legislation.
Sen. Cris Dush, R-Wellsboro, the bill’s sponsor, countered Wolf’s claims that the legislation eliminates background checks and would jeopardize the safety of Pennsylvanians.
“This bill would not have gotten rid of background checks or changed any of the statutes surrounding the lawful purchase of firearms,” he said. “The bill only sought to change the statute surrounding the carrying of firearms by law-abiding citizens.”
He also noted that the legislation would not have eliminated the state’s permitting system for carrying a concealed firearm, to ensure Pennsylvania residents could continue to do so in states with reciprocity agreements.
“We wanted to ensure this legislation did not negate your ability to carry in those states if Pennsylvania residents wanted to travel to them,” he said.
So far in 2021, nearly 360,000 license-to-carry background checks were completed and nearly 11,000 were denied, according to the Wolf administration. Democrats argued that eliminating that safeguard would create a safety risk and pointed to law enforcement agencies that opposed the legislation.
“When Senate Bill 565 was raced through our chamber, Senate Democrats fought it and tried repeatedly to amend it with safety measures. We were part of a large and broad coalition that opposed unregulated concealed carry; that coalition included not only gun violence prevention advocates but members of law enforcement,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny. “This veto will keep our communities safer and prevent an unsafe and unlimited rise in concealed firearms in our communities.”
Dush pointed to a shooting situation at Lancaster’s Park City Mall in October, when Lancaster County District Attorney Heather Adams told the public a bystander carrying a legal, concealed handgun helped prevent many others from being hurt or killed.
“No criminal has ever said, ‘I want to go commit assault and murder – but I have to wait for my license to carry to come in,’” Dush said. “But every day, honest Pennsylvanians who want to carry a gun simply to come home safe at night are forced to wait for their permit so they can carry legally.
“Gov. Wolf’s veto is saying to the people of Pennsylvania ‘In spite of the Bill of Rights you don’t have the right’ and has ensured the disparity in public safety will be enforced by his administration and will continue for Pennsylvanians.”