State Rep. Stephen Bloom (R-199) and Sen. Larry Farnese (D-1) gathered at Dickinson College in Carlisle to participate in a debate on Pennsylvania's gun laws Tuesday.
Sponsored by the Clarke Forum for Contemporary Issues at Dickinson, the debate included opening statements from the senator and the representative, a question-and-answer session from the audience, and closing statements from the two participants.
Despite federal and state constitutions that spell out gun rights, there has been historical controversy surrounding Americans’ rights to bear arms.
Some lawmakers push to restrict Second Amendment rights and others claim that restrictions will not put an end to the violence reported in the media.
Farnese, who supports what he calls “common sense gun laws” argued for the importance of preserving Americans’ rights to the Second Amendment while also restricting the sale of automatic assault rifles.
“I do not believe in restricting the Second Amendment gun laws,” Farnese said. “I do believe in common sense gun laws.”
Coming from Philadelphia, Farnese mentioned that in his city, guns mean something different than they do in rural areas where they are used for home protection, sport and gaming.
“Lawful gun owners deserve every single protection that is afforded to them under the Second Amendment,” he said. “But crimes and attacks against innocent citizens and law enforcement is a reality where I come from.”
He also said he does not see the benefit to any citizen holding a weapon as powerful as an AK-47 or a machine gun.
Bloom, on the other hand, argued that restrictions on gun sales are what caused more civilians to suffer the effects of gun violence, due to the fact that gun-bearing citizens were not available to protect them against violent criminals.
“We have been experimenting with restricting our Second Amendment’s rights,” Bloom said. “The result has been violent and deadly.”
The mostly local audience widely approved of this statement.
“It was an excellent debate,” said local resident Jim Compton, a retired U.S. Navy officer. “This is a very conservative area, very rural area. Consequently, we support the right to bear arms.”
Dickinson College sophomore David Taboh was less impressed, and disagreed with both elected officials.
“It was typical talking points,” he said. “I am not a defender of the Second Amendment. I don’t think you have a right to bear firearms.”
In 1968, the Gun Control Act was passed, allowing more dealers to sell guns but also requiring detailed record keeping and restrictions on handgun sales over state lines and to convicted felons, those deemed mentally incompetent, and drug users.
In 1994, both the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention act and the Assault Weapons Ban were passed, which made changes to waiting periods for gun purchases and delivery and prohibited the civilian use, production, possession, and importation of new semiautomatic assault weapons and large-capacity ammunition. The ban expired in 2004.
Most recently, in 2013, in reaction to the deadly shooting spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, President Obama suggested sweeping changes to American gun control laws, including universal background checks, reinstatement and strengthening of the assault weapons ban, and the limitation of ammunition magazines.
*Editor's Note: Story updated with information about the 1994 assault weapons ban expiring in 2004. 9:52 a.m. 5/2/13