Coming on the heels of a violent standoff that left six officers injured in North Philadelphia and a mass shooting that wounded five residents one day later, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order calling to reduce gun violence throughout the state.
“Too many Pennsylvanians are dying from gun violence. We need to fix our weak gun laws and pass reforms focused on increasing safety and reducing danger to our citizens,” Wolf said in a statement. “The action I am announcing today includes provisions for Pennsylvanians of all walks of life and looks at gun violence from all angles.”
Wolf initially planned to announce his reforms on Thursday, but postponed it as a result of Wendesday's shootout. Instead, he visited Philadelphia and stood by Mayor Jim Kenney and nearly a dozen other lawmakers all who called for stricter gun laws.
The executive order names former Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey head of a new Special Council on Gun Violence that will meet within the next 60 days to start developing a plan to combat shootings.
“I am honored to be asked by Governor Wolf to chair the Special Council on Gun Violence and serve as his senior adviser,” Ramsey said.
Ramsey spent 30 years on Chicago's police force before leading law enforcement departments in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. He retired in early 2016 after serving as Philadelphia's police chief for eight years under former Mayor Michael Nutter. He also served as co-chair of President Barack Obama's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Wolf's order also creates a Division of Violence Prevention within the state's Department of Health to accomplish the following:
- Establish new oversight and data sharing across law enforcement agencies and the Department of Health
- Expand the state's gun buyback program, partner with the court system and focus more on juvenile diversion program to curb community-based violence
- Combat mass shootings through increased surveillance of hate groups, better coordination with first responders and launching ad campaigns on planning and preparedness
- Decrease both gun-related suicides and domestic violence through mental health campaigns and data collection
More than 1,600 Pennsylvanians died from gunshot wounds in 2017, according to the governor's office.
House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris, who represents a Philadelphia district, recounted during Friday's announcement how this year in his city there have been eight cases in which at least four people were shot — with victims who were walking down the street, waiting for takeout food, attending a graduation party and gathering to shoot a music video.
"I have to go home to a place where my life is not safe, and there's far too many Pennsylvanians doing that on a daily basis," Harris said, wiping back tears at Wolf's Capitol news conference.
State Sen. Vincent Hughes, a Democrat to represents portions of Philadelphia and Montgomery counties, praised Wolf's executive order, saying that "excellent policing" led to a peaceful resolution to Wednesday's tense shootout.
"How many more incidents do we need before the message is received that common sense gun laws, which are widely supported in overwhelming numbers by all political sides, are fundamentally necessary in this state and across this nation?" he said in a statement.
Hughes plans to introduce legislation in the fall to ban weapons in public places. Earlier this year he co-sponsored legislation to ban people from keeping loaded firearms in their cars.
Sen. Lisa Baker, a Luzerne County Republican who chairs the Judiciary Committee, has scheduled a hearing for Sept. 24-25 on behavioral health, Second Amendment gun rights and related issues.
Baker said in a news release last week that all government officials should be looking for ways to end the plague of mass shootings.
"Taking symbolic steps sends a message, but it ultimately does not save lives," Baker wrote. "Something unworkable or unenforceable or unable to withstand a legal challenge does not provide the real protection our constituents are demanding."
House Republican spokesman Mike Straub said violent firearms offenses have fallen by nearly 40% in the state in the past 13 years.
He said the Pennsylvania firearm purchase background checks already exceed what is required by the federal government and argued the Philadelphia police shooting "proves once again that criminals will not follow changes we make to existing firearm laws."