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Wolf sides with local governments in rejecting gun rights bill

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(The Center Square) – Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed legislation designed to protect Pennsylvania residents’ Second Amendment rights against municipalities that enact restrictive gun ordinances.

“Once again, this governor has failed to live up to his oath to ‘support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth,” said Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Fayette, sponsor of House Bill 979. “By vetoing this bill, the governor has put the Second Amendment rights of every citizen in jeopardy, effectively encouraging communities to continue enacting illegal gun control measures.”

The legislation would have established the state, not local governments, has the final say on regulations involving firearms and would have prevented municipalities from creating more restrictive rules.

HB 979 reads: “The commonwealth, by this section, preempts and supersedes any manner of ordinance, resolution, regulation, rule, practice or other action promulgated or enforced by a municipality of firearms, ammunition, firearms components or ammunition components in this commonwealth, and any such action is declared null and void.”

The legislation also would have allowed a person adversely affected by local ordinances or rules to sue for declarative or injunctive relief and actual damages, such as lost wages.

Wolf characterized HB 979 as “an attack on local governments who take action to find commonsense solutions to gun violence” in his veto message Thursday.

“At a time when injuries and deaths from gun violence are spiking, House Bill 979 would discourage local jurisdictions from attempting to regulate firearms,” Wolf wrote. “In addition, it provides an opportunity for individuals to challenge local ordinances and sue a county, municipality, or township that violates the prohibition on stricter firearms laws.”

Wolf pointed to Philadelphia, where Republican lawmakers repeatedly have highlighted declining conviction rates for gun crimes.

“Under House Bill 979, Philadelphia, which saw more gun violence-related deaths than days in January, may have difficulty enforcing local laws that were created to curb the violence and save families and communities from continued heartache,” Wolf wrote.

Wolf also likened the legislation to Senate Bill 565 to eliminate the requirement for a license to carry a concealed firearm that he vetoed last year.

“When I vetoed Senate Bill 565 of 2021, a bill that would have allowed unvetted gun owners to carry concealed weapons through our streets, I stated that these victims and communities deserve to have meaningful legislation passed to address the scourge of gun violence. I stand by that,” he wrote.

“I have offered many ideas that would help keep Pennsylvanians safe while respecting the rights of responsible gun owners, including legislation to require safe storage, authorize extreme risk protection orders, enhance reporting requirements for lost or stolen guns and close gaps in the background check system – and yet, I have not received a bill from the General Assembly that seeks to address this issue in a meaningful way.”

Dowling said he’s not giving up on his effort to protect gun rights.

“While frustrated by the governor’s actions today, it comes as no surprise,” he said. “We will continue this fight in the days ahead.”

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