Is your right to keep and bear arms about to be infringed by the Pennsylvania Senate? Currently pending in our Senate Judiciary Committee is Senate Bill 435 known as the Assault Weapons Ban. The Bill was initially introduced by Senator Lawrence M. Farnese – a Democrat representing the southern portion of Philadelphia County – on February 5, 2013. Senator Farnese was joined in the introduction of this Bill by his colleagues LeAnna W. Washington (D-Philadelphia and Montgomery counties), Michael J. Stack (D-Northeastern Philadelphia County), Anthony H. Williams, (D-Delaware and Philadelphia counties), Jay Costa (D-Allegheny County), Wayne D. Fontana (D-Allegheny County), Vincent J. Hughes (D-Montgomery and Philadelphia counties). Interestingly, two other senators are indicated as either introducing the Bill – Edwin B. Erickson (R-Chester and Delaware counties) or sponsoring the Bill – Christine M. Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia County). Not surprising to this author, all of these senators – with the exception of Senator Erickson whose term expires in 2014 – are democrats located in or extremely close to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.
The Bill as drafted makes the possession, manufacture, importation, sale or transfer of any “class I assault weapon” or high capacity magazine a misdemeanor of the first degree. A second offense is a felony of the third degree. The only exceptions to this proposed law pertain to law enforcement officials, members of the armed services while on duty and officers or employees of the United States who are “duly authorized” to carry a concealed firearm. As defined, these exceptions would seem to permit a federal postal worker with a concealed carry permit to own, sell, import, transfer or make one of the defined assault weapons, but turn a retired military veteran – who has been trained to use and properly handle such weapons – into a criminal by simply owning a 30 round AR-15 magazine.
Lets take a moment to consider the language of the first sentence in the preceding paragraph. This Bill makes possession of any of the defined weapons a crime! That means that, if you lawfully purchased one of the defined firearms prior to the enacting of this Bill as a law, you would be considered a criminal simply because you own the gun! Furthermore, if you simply possess a 20 or 30 round magazine, you are committing a first degree misdemeanor which is punishable by a fine of up to $10,000.00 and 5 years in jail. If you are convicted of a second offense, you could face felony of the third degree punishable by a fine of up to $15,000.00 and up to 7 years in jail.
The definition of an assault weapon under this Bill is extremely broad and includes any of the following:
* A semi-automatic centerfire RIFLE capable of accepting a detachable magazine AND any of the following:
– a pistol grip protruding conspicuously below the weapon’s action,
– a thumbhole, folding or telescopic stock,
– a flash suppressor, grenade launcher or flare launcher, or
– a forward pistol grip.
* A semi-automatic centerfire rifle with an overall length of less than 30 inches.
* A semi-automatic centerfire rifle with a fixed magazine capable of holding over 10 rounds of ammunition.
* A semi-automatic PISTOL capable of accepting a detachable magazine AND any of the following:
– a threaded barrel
– a second handgrip
– a capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside the pistol grip, or
– a shroud attached to, or partially or completely encircling, the barrel allowing the bearer to fire the weapon with burning the bearer’s hand, excluding a slide enclosing the barrel.
* A semi-automatic pistol with a fixed magazine that can accept over 10 rounds.
* A semi-automatic SHOTGUN having any of the following:
– a thumbhole, folding or telescoping stock
– a pistol grip protruding conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, or
– a vertical handgrip.
* A semi-automatic shotgun with the ability to accept detachable magazines.
* Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder.
The Bill concludes by defining a large capacity magazine as any detachable ammunition feeding device with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition, except a feeding device that is permanently altered so that it cannot accept more than 10 rounds, a “.22 caliber tube ammunition feeding device” or a tube magazine which is part of a lever action firearm.
While I am not a tactical shooter or collector of the type of firearms which are the primary focus of this type of legislation, I am a sportsman who hunts a wide variety of game across Pennsylvania. Under this definition, several shotguns which are now legal for hunting in Pennsylvania would be banned. For instance, the simple addition of a pistol grip or thumbhole stock to a legal semiautomatic shotgun would make you a criminal.
While this Bill is still in the Senate Judiciary Committee and has yet to be brought before the Senate for a formal vote, we can expect some form of an assault weapon ban bill to surface in the Senate or House or Representatives in the future. More and more, the media focuses on shootings across the United States. Interestingly, these stories rarely include justifiable shootings or instances where lawful gun owners saved the lives of others or themselves. On the contrary, the media seems to foster the momentum behind this type of legislation.
What can you do? Alert your senators that you oppose this type of legislation and support the organizations which will defend your Second Amendment rights. Stay tuned for my next blog which will examine the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Bill 517 also proposing a ban on assault weapons.