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Bill Would Make PA Gun Restrictions National

State Rep. Todd Stephens of Horsham plans to introduce legislation that would require the Pennsylvania State Police to upload information about people not legally permitted to buy guns in Pennsylvania into a national database.

As it stands now, anyone from Pennsylvania who has been involuntarily committed, or found to be mentally deficient - and thus ineligible to buy firearms - could travel to another state and buy a gun.

State Rep. Todd Stephens (R-151) of Horsham is looking to prevent what he calls a “loophole” pertaining to the inclusion of mental health records in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). 

“What I’m proposing is already the law in 17 other states,” Stephens said. “I’ve been working on this initiative for a year and a half urging the state police to add this data to the national database.”

Currently, the Pennsylvania State Police include mental health commitments in the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS), according to Pennsylvania State Police Trooper and Public Information Officer Adam Reed. Since 1998, PICS has been used to conduct background checks on individuals seeking to purchase a gun.

However, Reed said the state police do not upload that information to the national database because “NICS owns and controls the database.” Therefore, Reed said, it is up to NICS and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives to “decide if they would accept the records.”

“We keep track of that information in our own state databases and are currently trying to include that into the national system,” Reed said.

In a Dec. 19, 2012 two-page letter written by Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Colonel Frank Noonan to Paul Wysopal, NICS section chief and sent to B. Todd Jones, ATF director and Robert Mueller, FBI director, Noonan said the state police had been waiting since June 2011 for a determination as to whether Pennsylvania mental health commitments prohibit individuals from possessing firearms under federal law. Noonan, in the letter, said a Pennsylvania resident, who in October 2012 was denied a firearm, attempted to buy a weapon in West Virginia. 

“A NICS background check revealed Pennsylvania’s previous denial,” Noonan’s letter states, adding that he believed the purchaser was denied the gun purchase. On Nov. 9, in light of the incident, Noonan said he received an email from a NICS representative with a legal opinion that Pennsylvania involuntary mental health commitments prohibit people from possessing firearms under federal law.

As a result of that, Noonan said the Pennsylvania State Police would begin forwarding all mental health records to NICS no later than Jan. 15 for inclusion in the national database. In addition, the state police would coordinate with NICS to “forward all future mental health records to NICS on a daily basis” according to the letter.

“I’m glad the state police have finally taken the necessary steps to include this information in the national database following the announcement of my legislation," Stephens said. "I will still seek to make this policy the law in Pennsylvania, as it is in 17 other states, so we can be sure those who have been involuntarily committed in Pennsylvania cannot obtain firearms in other states."

Stephens said he had hoped that the information could be added to the national database without the need for new legislation. But, after 18 months of delays and red tape, Stephens said he had intended to introduce the bill on Jan. 14, on his first day back to Harrisburg.

“This is something that the governor, through the state police, could implement immediately,” Stephens said. “They can move forward without my legislation. They can go ahead and do it tomorrow if they want.”

Stephens said Governor Corbett’s office said they were “looking at the issue closely” and would get back to him. If the impending bill - which Stephens said has already garnered support for co-sponsorship - moves forward, it’s his hope that it will pave the way for widespread support.

“It ought to be a national initiative,” Stephens said, adding that he’s spoken with representatives from Bucks County Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick’s office. “I hope that we can get it done in Pennsylvania. The rest of the states across the country will follow suit.”

Fitzpatrick's Chief of Staff, Athan Koutsiouroumbas said the eighth district legislator is "supportive" of Stephens' initiative and intends to introduce "companion federal legislation" in a few weeks. 

While Stephens said the sharing of mental health records is an important initiative, Stephens said it is in no way the only “solution” for help in curbing gun violence, particularly in the wake of last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

“To me this was low-hanging fruit that’s a no-brainer,” Stephens said. “To help keep guns out of the hands of people who aren’t supposed to have them.”

Last session, Stephens sponsored . However, the bill did not come up for vote before the end of session.

“I’ve got to start all over with that,” Stephens said. 

And with the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting fresh on everyone’s mind, Stephens suggested that other gun legislation may move slower, rather than quicker.

“When you have a serious issue with some broad concerns, there is a sense of moving a little bit more deliberately,” Stephens said. “I think we have to have a comprehensive review of the way we handle access to firearms. I don’t think there’s any one answer.”

Don Talenti January 06, 2013 at 08:23 PM
Yikes, I'll type slowly, so you get this. "Regulated", in those times meant trained, not under regulation. It meant regular practice. But to answer your question directly, the problem with MORE regulation, as we already have plenty, is that they don't work. Period. So WHY do you want more? To do what? It's an irrational, and delusional, fear of guns and abject belief in the religion of the state that you think that just some more laws will fix everything, and even if it doesn't, why, you've gotten rid of those evil guns and showed them gun owners a thing or two. BTW, isn't there already a law against killing someone? And a law against shooting someone? So what makes you think a crazy person or a felon with evil intent will follow yet another law?
Bobz January 07, 2013 at 01:23 AM
To Mike Shortall: "They [liberals] won't be happy until only criminals own all the guns?" Is this more of "...the least bit of 2nd Amendment-based reasonableness" you were talking about?" On it's face that statement is absolutely absurd but epitomizes the type of unsupportable BS espoused by the NRA. Like advocating the arming of all teachers. As if there aren't enough teachers who have no business carrying a gun at school and denies the reality that such a scheme might encourage juvenile delinquent students to accept the challenge of merely overpowering a teacher to obtain a gun. I'm no liberal but I sure as heck am not some simple-minded fool who thinks unencumbered unlimited access to guns has no connection or consequences whatsoever with people committing multiple shootings and deaths with assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Looking for someone to blame about the jump to implement stricter gun laws? Blame the individuals and states that allow guns to get into the hands of those who inflict massive carnage on innocent citizens using guns. Advocate responsible, safe and sane gun ownership and usage; support laws that penalize those who are irresponsible, unsafe and insane with guns, lose the wild-eyed cries for unlimited-and-easy-access-to-guns-at-any-cost rhetoric. To reasonable people, the cost for unlimited, easy access to guns, such as the shooting deaths of small children in Newtown, CT, is a price they feel is becoming too high and not worth it.
Mike Shortall Sr January 08, 2013 at 01:21 AM
@Bobz ... Take a pill, Bob. I certainly never said any of that extremism you're spouting. No one has said "arm all teachers" to my knowledge. But you cannot argue the fact that law enforcement has changed its approach to "live shooter" situations. Their active search and prosecute tactic lends support to the notion that the presence of TRAINED, properly armed individuals can make a difference in such situations. As for the rest of your diatribe, you will have a hard time making headway with anyone, especially me since I am not a gun owner or an NRA member. So rant all you want. I will agree however, that the individual who allowed Lanza access to the weapons he used should be blamed. But since she paid with her life, I imagine there's no point in pursuing it. And I know of no state that allows "unlimited-and-easy-access-to-guns-at-any-cost", except for our own federal government, which will freely ship military weapons all over the globe or just across the border into Mexico for anyone with a drug cartel membership. Yet that same screwed up entity will be tasked - if some Liberals get their way - with limiting access to such weapons for perfectly legal and responsible individuals. Hope that wasn't too "simple-minded" for you!
Shalina January 09, 2013 at 09:04 PM
We have the right to bere arms, not just to protect ourselves from thy neighbors, but to protect us from the government as well. If the government tried to impliment an all out ban on weapons, there would be a nation-wide revolt, most likely leading to more crime and ultimately, more deaths. Banning guns is not the answer, more strict laws on gun control "could" help, but WONT. It is the responsibility of the gun owner to keep them locked up and our children safe. However; most viloent crimes are commited by someone who doesn't legally own a gun. So creating more laws won't make a difference. Why not restructure the ones already in place? GUNS don't get up on there own and kill people. Irresponsible idiots kill people. More responsibility, less accidents. A cop leaves his gun in the consol of his car, with his unsupervised children. The 3 year old shoots and kills his older sister. Is it the guns fault or the asshole who thought it was ok to just leave it there in his cup holder? This is a man who knows better, a COP. What does this say about your idea that only police should own guns? I am a mother of 4 and I fight for my right to own firearms. Responsible adults should not have their freedoms stripped away because of the actions of others. Responsible gun owners keep their firearms LOCKED away within a safe. I don't think political party affiliation matters at all. I am not a member of the NRA, not even republican. I am a proud democrat and protect my right to bare arms.
James Kephart Jr. January 20, 2013 at 03:54 PM
I bet the dead guy in Hiltown wished he had his gun on him and not locked up.

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