Over the past few years, Republicans across the nation have expressed the belief that more mental health services could play a significant role in reducing gun violence in the United States. In no state has this philosophy been more pronounced than in Pennsylvania, where Republicans have voiced support for additional mental health funding in the state budget.
It therefore seems rather odd that in this year’s budget, the Republican controlled state senate omitted additional funds for adult mental health care. To be fair, Republicans did place more money into student mental health services, but given the fact that suicides comprise about two-thirds of all gun related deaths in the state, with such deaths affecting vastly more adults than children, Republicans obviously have no understanding of how to control the firearms crisis in Pennsylvania.
That did not stop the Democratic controlled Pennsylvania House, however, from addressing the intersection of mental illness and guns by passing HB 1018 in May, which allows authorities to remove firearms from individuals who are a threat to themselves or others. That same month, the house passed HB 714, requiring universal background checks for purchasing a firearm – even at a gun show.
The bill currently resides in the Republican dominated Senate Judiciary Committee, where it will no doubt remain for the foreseeable future.
That has not stopped Chris Dush, the chair of the senate’s Second Amendment Caucus (yes, I kid you not), from trying to convince us that guns are good. In a recent op-ed in the Inquirer Dush argued that these bills – like all gun control bills - are ineffective because they fail to satisfy a three-part test which asks whether: a proposed gun law will 1) actually solve the problem, 2) cause more benefit than harm, and 3) be obeyed by criminals.
According to Dush, studies show that the two bills passed by the Pennsylvania house are ineffective because studies show their effect on overall gun violence is “inconclusive”. Of course the families of the dead and wounded victims of the crazed, unlicensed shooter in Philadelphia’s Kingsessing neighborhood last month may beg to differ with that take-away.
In fact, we do know that gun violence generally diminishes in states that enact a strong set of gun control legislation that includes both red flag laws and background checks.
With regard to Dush’s second test, showing that these laws do more harm than good, he conjures up Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner and his “sort-on-crime” policies. Because of Krasner, a dearth of law enforcement personnel, and low morale, Philadelphians are left to defend themselves against assailants. These two bills therefore make it harder for people to acquire and retain firearms. But this argument raises the question of why homicide rates are diminishing in Philadelphia by numbers that cannot be explained by Dush’s “Good guys with guns” scenario.*
Finally, Dush dismissed these bills because they won’t “be obeyed by criminals.” Well, of course not Chris. That’s what makes them criminals.
For your information, below are the other members of the PA Senate’s Second Amendment Caucus. Keep these names in mind come election time.
Sen. David Argall (R-29), Carbon, Luzerne (part) and Schuylkill Counties
Sen. Ryan Aument (R-36), Lancaster
Sen. Lynda Schlegel Culver (R-27), Luzerne, Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, and Snyder Counties
Sen. Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-28), York
Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-21), Butler, Erie, Clarion, Forest , Venango, and Warren counties.
Sen. Wayne Langerholc (R-35), Centre, Cambria, and Clearfield counties
Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-33), Adams, and Franklin counties
Sen. Tracy Pennycuick (R-24), Berks, and Montgomery counties
Sen. Greg Rothman (R-34), Cumberland, and Dauphin, and Perry counties
Sen. Pat Stefano (R-32), Westmoreland, Bedford, Fayette, and Somerset counties.
Sen. Elder Vogel (R-47), Beaver, Butler, and Lawrence counties.
Sen. Judy Ward (R-30), Blair County, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, and Mifflin counties.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-23), Bradford, Lycoming, Sullivan, Tioga, and Union counties.
* There are 70 fewer homicides year-to-date in 2023 than in 2022. There were 20 justifiable homicides in 2021. It is unlikely that that number could rise by 50 in 2023.