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Bill Would End PA Background Check System For Guns

A proposal to dismantle the state background check system used to determine if someone is eligible to buy a gun or a gun license is set for a committee vote Tuesday.

The measure, referred to the House Judiciary Committee, would bypass and defund the state background check in favor of using the national background check system.

Supporters say it would reduce redundancy and free up state funding currently going to the state background check system, established in 1998.

“It truly is redundant, between the two systems,” said Tom Dymek, executive director of the Judiciary Committee. He said the panel’s chairman, Rep. Ron Marisco (R-Dauphin) had received a “large amount of communication from gun rights groups” pushing for a vote on the bill. The chairman, Dymek said, believes there’s no threat to public safety in eliminating redundancies in the background check process.

But the Pennsylvania State Police say the state and national background check systems complement one another, rather than create duplication.   

Spokeswoman Maria Finn said the state system can access information not available to the national background check system. As a result, she said, Pennsylvania’s system is “somewhat more robust,” containing, for example, certain records on juveniles and certain arrest records not included in the national criminal background checks system.

“Right now, Pennsylvania uses those two systems in tandem,” said Shira Goodman, director of gun control advocacy group CeaseFire PA. “It is one of the good features of our regulations of guns here.”

The House Judiciary Committee is also scheduled to vote Tuesday on a measure to require local governments that pass gun regulations to pay legal fees and other costs of anyone who sues over the regulations.

State law preempts local firearm regulations, but Goodman said a number of municipalities have passed local ordinances anyway. In Pennsylvania, the gun control group Mayors Against Illegal Guns is trying to spread local laws that require owners of lost or stolen guns to report such incidents, in an effort to tamp down the sale of illegal guns.

Opponents of such local laws say those cities should be penalized. The measure up for a vote Tuesday would allow citizens including gun owners and “membership organizations” to challenge the local policy in court and collect damages, with the offending local government on the hook for “attorney fees, expert witness fees, court costs and compensation for loss of income.”

“The hope,” said Dymek, “is that municipalities would go take off the books laws that are currently illegal.”