‘Strengthening Background Checks': Philadelphia Thrust Into Gun Control Debate as Senators, Presidential Candidates Weigh In

Pennsylvania's Republican U.S. senator says gun control should be discussed when Congress returns from summer break. Democrats running for the presidential nomination also weighed in.

What to Know

  • Both U.S. senators from Pennsylvania, including Republican Pat Toomey, are calling for stronger gun control legislation.
  • Congress is currently on a summer break. Mitch McConnell, the Senate Majority Leader, has said he would not call senators back early.
  • Several Democrats running for their party's presidential nomination also weighed in on the shooting.

Lawmakers, both Republican and Democrats, took issue with the state of gun laws in the United States as they reacted to a shooting Wednesday in Philadelphia that left six police officers recovering from gunshot wounds.

In addition to Pennsylvania's two U.S. senators and governor, as well as numerous local lawmakers, a few of the Democrats seeking their party's presidential nomination also reacted to the shooting, with two strongly demanding action on gun control legislation.

The six officers hurt were all released from the hospital by late Wednesday, though a seventh Philadelphia officer injured in a car crash responding to the shooting in North Philadelphia remained hospitalized with non-life threatening injuries.

The suspect, Maurice Hill, 36, surrendered just after midnight Thursday following a seven-hour standoff. Hill allegedly used an assault-style rifle during the initial shootout with police. It was at that time, at about 4:30 p.m., that six officers were struck as they raided a house in the Nicetown-Tioga section of the city.

In addition to possessing a semi-automatic rifle, which the police commissioner identified as an AR-15, lawmakers also noted Hill's very long criminal record dating back to 2001 when he was 18.

U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, said Hill never should have been able to get his hands on such a powerful weapon. He also said one significant piece of gun control legislation should be discussed by the Senate in the coming weeks. 

"The shooter who attempted to murder brave Philadelphia police officers yesterday is a convicted felon who had no right to possess a firearm," Toomey said. "We can do more to strengthen our gun safety laws and better protect law enforcement. When Congress reconvenes, these issues, such as strengthening background checks to keep guns out of the hands of violent criminals, should be a top priority.”

Pennsylvania's other U.S. senator, Democrat Bob Casey, called on Mitch McConnell, the Republican senate majority leader, to reconvene the legislative body immediately to confront gun violence.

"Press reports indicate that the gunman had a long history of criminal convictions and would never have had access to a firearm with a proper background check," Casey said in a statement. "We also know that this attack is another example of an individual using a high-powered, military-style weapon to terrorize a community and cause harm. Gun violence is a public health epidemic and it’s long past time for Congress to take action to address it. There are commonsense steps we can take to reduce the likelihood that a person can threaten a community with a military-style assault weapon and we must take them."

Several of the Democratic candidates running for their party's presidential nomination weighed in on the shooting, with Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren giving the strongest, immediate call for gun control.

"It is devastating that so many families are suffering, or losing the people they love, while we wait to make the substantial gun reform we need to keep people in our country safe," Castro tweeted.

Warren tweeted she was "heartsick" as she read of the officers injured and standoff.

"We don't have to live like this. We must pass gun reform laws to end the gun violence epidemic—now," she tweeted.

President Donald Trump also tweeted about the shooting, focusing on the suspect instead of the high-powered weapon he used.

"The Philadelphia shooter should never have been allowed to be on the streets. He had a long and very dangerous criminal record Looked like he was having a good time after his capture, and after wounding so many police. Long sentence - must get much tougher on street crime!" the president tweeted Thursday morning.

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