PHILADELPHIA, December 14, 2015 – At a news conference held at the Lonnie Young Recreation Center in Germantown, State Senator Art Haywood joined community organizations, clergy, activists, and family members of gun violence victims to announce the introduction of handgun licensing legislation in Pennsylvania. Haywood’s bill, SB 1029, would create a new firearm eligibility license for handguns. The application for the license would be issued by law enforcement.
“It is unconscionably easy for dangerous Pennsylvanians to get their hands on deadly guns,” Haywood said, “The ease of obtaining handguns, in particular, is having a brutal impact on our neighbors, and legislators who do nothing to stop it are complicit in the killings.” The Federal Bureau of Investigation found handguns accounted for more than half of all murder weapons used in Pennsylvania last year. Handguns are also implicated in accidental deaths and suicides across the state. Lonnie Young Recreation Center was the site of two gun violence incidents during summer 2015, including the injury of an 8-year-old boy who accidentally shot himself with a handgun he found on the playground.
Haywood’s legislation would require that handgun purchasers in Pennsylvania obtain a firearms eligibility license prior to buying the weapon. To qualify for the license, an individual would have to be at least 18-years-old, live in the Commonwealth, have completed a firearms safety course within the last three years, and pass a fingerprint background check at a law enforcement office. Certain individuals, such as law enforcement officers, members and retirees of the armed forces and licensed firearms manufacturers, would be exempt from the training course requirements or from obtaining the license altogether.
Bryan Miller, Executive Director of Heeding God’s Call, a faith-based, grassroots organization to prevent gun violence, praised the efficacy of the legislation. “Across the Delaware River, New Jersey has employed handgun purchaser licensing since 1966, resulting in a per capita gun death rate half of that of Pennsylvania’s. Without a doubt, handgun purchaser licensing is the gold standard of background check systems and effectively diminishes straw purchasing and illegal gun trafficking,” Miller said. Straw purchases account for half of all trafficked guns, and occur when the actual buyer of a firearm, who may be unable to pass a background check, uses another person to make the purchase on their behalf.
Firearms eligibility licensing has already been passed in thirteen states and the District of Columbia. A 2015 study by the John Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research found a forty percent reduction in homicides after the implementation of handgun licensing and universal background check laws in Connecticut. John Hopkins also found the repeal of similar laws in Missouri has led to at least 49 additional murders each year.
Joining Haywood to speak in support of the bill were Dorothy Johnson-Speight, of Mothers in Charge and Shelly Yanoff, former Executive Director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth (PCCY) and longtime youth advocate in Philadelphia. “Each of us and all of us have an obligation to do whatever we can to stop the bloodshed and save our communities, our families and children – all of them,” Yanoff said. “This is the beginning.” Haywood noted that the handgun safety training requirement of SB 1029 would represent a major step towards reducing suicides and accidental handgun death, particularly by children.
“As legislators and as community members, it is up to us to respond to gun violence with laws that save lives,” Haywood said. “Enacting handgun licensing legislation, along with other commonsense measures, is proven to do exactly that.”
Contact: Melissa Ostroff