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The Fight for Self-Defense

To the surprise of many gun owners, the battle to pass a simple self-defense law that allows you to defend yourself from attack on your own property was delayed for months by a small minority of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. This comes as even more of a shock if you only look at the story through the vote totals from the final few votes on the issue. In this post, we’ll look at the story of how the final votes unfolded and how it may make an impact in elections around Bucks & Montgomery Counties.

With more than 130 co-sponsors, or 65% of the House members by the end of the House debate, it would appear that momentum was on our side when the bill was referred to the Judiciary Committee in January of 2009. No hearing was held until November of that year, with testimony from a variety of self-defense advocates, including Daniel Pehrson of the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association and John Hohenwarter of the NRA. Many more months passed before the bill was passed by the Judiciary Committee in May, after intense pressure from gun owners around Pennsylvania. It would be the first of two times the anti-rights leaders in the House would try to connect the bill with anti-gun legislation.

Unfortunately, the bill was then held up by the Appropriations Committee who does not support the Second Amendment, and, based upon his attitude and votes on Castle Doctrine, the right to self-defense. He refused all calls from gun owners and fellow lawmakers to release the bill for a vote until his hand was called by the bill’s primary sponsor with the threat of a discharge petition. Only when this petition was facing floor action did Rep. Dwight Evans agree to even allow a vote on the bill in his committee. He held true to his word the following day, September 29, 2010 – more than four months after his committee received it. With the release also came word that members of the House from the Philadelphia area planned to add between six to eight gun control amendments to the unrelated self-defense bill.

When the bill was allowed for second consideration on the House floor, Rep. Sam Smith pulled a procedural motion that limited debate and pointed out that none of the proposed amendments had anything to do with the nature of the bill – self-defense laws, not gun laws. The amendments were temporarily killed, and the legislation received the support of 156 members of the House. The following evening, the House took up the bill again – much to the chagrin of Philadelphia area lawmakers. They stood up to object, and the atmosphere was nearly riotous compared to the normally quiet tones in the chambers. One member shook his cane above his head as he made an impassioned plea to adjourn rather than allowing the pro-rights House members to vote for Castle Doctrine. Others raised their voices and objected to the idea of leaving the chambers simply to avoid a vote on an uncontroversial issue. In the end, the bill passed with even more support from the night before – 159 to 38.

While Rep. Todd Eachus accused the bill’s sponsors of being “heavyhanded” by using procedural moves to demand a swift vote, the better question might be whether the small number of opposing members truly used the heavy-hand by refusing to allow any votes on the bill at all.

Now the bill moves to the Senate, and some press accounts indicate that sources within the chamber plan to move the bill quickly for a vote in the remaining days of the session.

In the meantime, here are how representatives from parts of Bucks, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties voted on your right to self-defense:

Rep. Gene DiGirolamo (R-18) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Bernie O’Neill (R-29) – Yes
Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D-31) – No
Rep. Bob Godshall (R-53) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Kate Harper (R-61) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Matt Bradford (D-70) – Yes
Rep. John Galloway (D-140) – Yes (on earlier votes, absent for the final vote)
Rep. Frank Farry (R-142) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-143) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Katherine Watson (R-144) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Paul Clymer (R-145) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Thomas Quigly (R-146) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Marcy Toepel (R-147) – Yes
Rep. Mike Gerber (D-148) – No
Rep. Rick Taylor (D-151) – No

Rep. Thomas Murt (R-152) – Yes
Rep. Josh Shapiro (D-153) – Yes
Rep. Larry Curry (D-154) – Yes (final passage only, opposed on earlier votes)
Rep. Dennis O’Brien (R-169) – No
Rep. Brendan Boyle (D-170) – Yes
Rep. John Perzel (R-172) – Yes (on earlier votes, absent for final), Co-Sponsor
Rep. Mike McGeehan (D-173) – No
Rep. John Sabatina (D-174) – No
Rep. Michael O’Brien (D-175) – No

Rep. John Taylor (R-177) – Yes
Rep. Scott Petri (R-178) – Yes, Co-Sponsor
Rep. Tony Payton (D-179) – No
Rep. Mark Cohen (D-202) – No
Rep. Dwight Evans (D-203) – No

You can learn more about the opponents running against those who voted against us on our candidates page.

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