HARRISBURG – State Auditor General Eugene DePasquale announced Wednesday that his department will review how Pennsylvania implements its gun laws to see how the state can better protect its citizens.
The announcement came one day after a shooting rampage in northern California and 10 days after a church shooting in Texas. Guns are to blame for four deaths every day, closer to home, he said.
In Pennsylvania alone in 2016, there were 1,485 gun deaths from homicides, suicides and accidental discharges.
“While firearms are an emotional issue no matter where you stand, even one death is too many,” DePasquale said. “As a society, we must be able to find some common ground on the firearm issue to reduce gun violence while protecting the right to own firearms. It is the morally responsible thing to do.”
The auditor general said that he will take a look at the Pennsylvania State Police’s management of the background check system used before firearms purchases.
DePasquale said that going into the investigation, he believes that the state police are doing “extraordinary work” in managing the background check system. He suspects there may be gaps in information that is shared with them, he said.
“The Pennsylvania State Police welcomes the opportunity to assist the Auditor General in any way the department can as he explores this important topic,” said Ryan Tarkowski, a Pennsylvania State Police spokesman.
Last year, the state police did 1.13 million firearms background checks, the most ever, he said.
“Our Firearms Division is constantly working with our partners to enhance the system and promote public safety,” Tarkowski said.
DePasquale said his effort will focus on the enforcement of firearm laws and regulations already on the books in Pennsylvania. But DePasquale said that his report may determine that there are legislative fixes needed.
He noted that earlier this week, Gov. Tom Wolf endorsed legislation that would close a loophole that would prohibit domestic abusers subject to final Protection From Abuse (PFA) orders from possessing firearms. Across the country, recent mass shootings often have a common thread: perpetrators with a history of domestic violence.
“We must protect victims – spouses and children – of domestic violence and attempt to prevent domestic abusers from escalating their violence in everyday places that result in mass murder,” Wolf said.
According to recent research, from 2009 to 2016 in the U.S., there have been 156 mass shootings—incidents in which four or more people were shot and killed, not including the shooter. These incidents resulted in 1,187 victims shot: 848 people were shot and killed, and 339 people were shot and injured. The majority of mass shootings—54 percent of cases—were related to domestic or family violence.
DePasquale said that Wolf brought up the legislation when the auditor general called the governor to alert him about his plan to review the state’s gun laws. The auditor general said he agrees that the measure seems like “common-sense.”
Kim Stolfer, president of Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Against Crime, said he “reservations” about how objective DePasquale’s review will be.
He said that along with the governor’s call for passage of the gun control bill, Attorney General Josh Shapiro last month signed onto a letter with 16 other attorneys general in opposition to a proposed federal law dealing with concealed carry permits.
The proposal would allow a gunowner with a concealed carry permit issued by any state to legally carry his or her firearm in other states.
Wolf, DePasquale and Shapiro are all Democrats.
Stolfer said the Democrats “are ramping up their public message” to sell the idea that more gun laws are needed in response to the mass shootings across the country.
“It’s a fraud,” he said.
Stouffer said that if the existing gun laws and other safeguards already in place had been adequately followed, most of the most notorious mass shootings would have been prevented. For instance, he noted that the shooter in Sutherland, Texas, wasn’t barred from purchasing firearms because the Air Force hadn’t entered information into the background check database. The hotel where the Las Vegas shooter fired from was a gun-free zone, so he shouldn’t have been able to have his firearms there, Stolfer said.
While saying he’s skeptical of DePasquale’s plan, Stolfer said there are shortcomings that the auditor general could bring to light, particularly with the way information is shared between the state’s background check database and the national equivalent, he said.
“There are things that need to be fixed,” Stolfer said. “We don’t want bad guys with guns.”
The auditor general said he plans to interview people on all sides of the gun issue.
“I am entering into this issue with an open mind and a willingness to listen to all sides of the gun debate,” DePasquale said. “I am hopeful that open and honest discussions with all parties will enable us to fashion commonsense gun safety measures to reduce injuries and deaths from firearms.
DePasquale anticipates issuing a special report on gun safety by fall 2018. It follows similar reports he’s done examining child protection in the state, along with the backlog of untested rape kits.