Dueling rallies from groups on either side of the gun debate filled the halls of the state Capitol Wednesday.
First to convene was the gun rights group Pennsylvania Responsible Citizens – with about 150 people standing on the Capitol steps. Not many would welcome standing outside in 15-degree weather, but there was reason for the outdoor venue.
“Because most of the people are here to exercise their Second Amendment rights, and that is to keep and bear arms, and no firearms are permitted inside the Capitol, so it would be inappropriate to have that inside, I would imagine,” said firearms instructor Bob Sklar.
Inside the Capitol, around 200 people gathered to show support for gun control measures.
Mary Beth Hacke of Allegheny County and member of CeaseFirePA said her fourteen-month-old son was killed by stray gunfire while sitting in a car seat.
“And today I’m here to tell you and to tell our governor and to tell state officials, I’m tired of watching children die,” she said.
Philadelphia Deputy Mayor Rich Negrin said he was a teenager when his father was killed walking down the street by a machine pistol called the MAC-10.
“This gun was subject to the assault weapons ban. It was. Today you can find this gun on the internet,” he said.
The increased push for tougher gun laws comes after several high-profile shootings including the Aurora movie theater shooting and December’s Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting which left 20 children dead.
Republican state Representative Jeff Pyle of Armstrong County said his all of his colleagues have been stricken by the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
“But many of us do not feel that additional gun laws are the cure for our evils,”
Fellow Republican, Representative Daryl Metcalfe of Butler County said protecting the Second Amendment right to bear arms will require “eternal vigilance.”
“We cannot rest because the liberals that want to take away your freedom will not rest,” he said.
Democratic state Representative Dan Frankel of Allegheny County said the Second Amendment right comes with responsibilities, like strengthening mental health care infrastructure, reporting background checks, and revisiting what kind of firearms should be legal.
“It means that we need to examine reporting requirements for lost and stolen weapons. It means that we need to examine the issue of safe gun storage,” he said.
Also on Wednesday, a state Senate resolution that would create a joint task force to study violence prevention was approved in committee and sent to the full Senate for consideration.