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Newtown mom urges gun-buying background checks

on July 18, 2013 10:40 AM

HARRISBURG (AP) — A woman whose son was among the victims of a mass shooting at a Connecticut elementary school urged Pennsylvania lawmakers on Wednesday to change state law so that private sales of rifles would require background checks.

Francine Lobis Wheeler, whose son, Ben, was among 20 first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown in December, said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the background check system that the checks prevent felons and dangerously mentally ill people from buying guns.

“If we all agree dangerous individuals shouldn’t have guns, then shouldn’t we take at least the most basic steps to ensure that they can’t get around the system simply by going online or buying from someone who’s not a licensed gun dealer?” Wheeler asked.

The hearing was informational and not related to any specific proposal, though a bill is pending in the House to mandate background checks for all firearms purchases, including the private sale of rifles and shotguns, with an exception for close family members.

Currently, the private sale of rifles and shotguns are not subject to the checks, and officials said they aren’t sure how many of those sales were conducted in the state.

“That should be covered as well,” said CeaseFirePA executive director Shira Goodman, noting the state sees about 1,300 gun deaths each year. “We know that long guns are just as deadly as handguns.”

John Hohenwarter with the National Rifle Association, whose group is against expanding the system to include long guns, said rifles and shotguns are involved in only about 4 percent of Pennsylvania homicides.

“The one thing we do know is these firearms are rarely used in crimes,” he said.

The National Shooting Sports Foundation said the state should eliminate its check system and rely on the federal background check system.

State police officials said Pennsylvania’s instant check system for gun purchases processed more than 1 million calls last year, a record since it began in 1998.

Last year, the Pennsylvania Instant Check System was directly involved in the capture of 161 people with active warrants who were trying to buy a gun.

Judiciary Chairman Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, said the hearing was designed to get information, and he was uncertain as to whether his committee will be voting on a bill to change the instant check system.

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