Wolf takes action to reduce gun violence in Pennsylvania
Gov. Tom Wolf has signed an executive order making unprecedented sweeping changes to executive branch agencies and programs to better target the public health crisis of gun violence in Pennsylvania. He was joined by advocates, legislators, cabinet secretaries and Charles Ramsey, chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, who will use his expertise in a new role advising the executive branch on implementing these changes.
“Too many Pennsylvanians are dying from gun violence,” Wolf said Aug. 16. “We need to fix our weak gun laws and pass reforms focused on increasing safety and reducing danger to our citizens. The action I am announcing today includes provisions for Pennsylvanians of all walks of life and looks at gun violence from all angles.”
The governor’s executive order names Ramsey as a senior adviser charged with coordinating and facilitating gun violence reduction. Ramsey will lead a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the PCCD, and the office will contain a Special Council on Gun Violence tasked with meeting within 60 days to begin developing a plan to reduce gun violence in the commonwealth.
The executive order also creates the Division of Violence Prevention within the Department of Health. The two new offices will work together to tackle gun violence from both the gun safety and public health perspectives. Together, they will work to establish new oversight and data sharing, reduce community gun violence, combat mass shootings and halt domestic violence-related and self-inflicted shootings.
“I am honored to be asked by Gov. Wolf to chair the Special Council on Gun Violence and serve as his senior adviser,” Ramsey said. “I look forward to developing recommendations to reduce and prevent gun violence — in all its forms — throughout Pennsylvania. The opportunity to explore gun violence in its totality is a unique challenge, but I am confident that the (Special) Council, the Office of Gun Violence Prevention at PCCD and the Division of Violence Prevention at DOH will be up to that task.”
More than 1,600 people died in Pennsylvania from gunshot wounds in 2017, a rate above the national average. Guns account for the weapon used in 74 percent of all homicides and 52 percent of fatal suicides in Pennsylvania. According to Wolf, the spikes in gun violence have led to billions of taxpayer dollars going toward efforts to increase security in schools and other public places and provide medical care to survivors, while families and communities have suffered invaluable losses when loved ones die of senseless gun violence.
Wolf recognizes that executive action alone cannot end gun violence in Pennsylvania. In addition to his call for a federal assault weapons ban, he will also call upon the General Assembly to pass safe storage legislation to reduce the number of accidental shootings, the Extreme Risk Protection Order Act, also known as the red flag law, lost and stolen gun reporting and universal background checks by the Pennsylvania State Police on all gun purchases.
Wolf’s executive order will immediately implement the following:
Special Council on Gun Violence
Housed at the PCCD, the Special Council on Gun Violence will consist of representatives from the following:
One representative from each of PCCD’s existing advisory committees, including the Children’s Advocacy Center Advisory Committee, Criminal Justice Advisory Committee, the Mental Health and Justice Advisory Committee, the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Committee, the Victims’ Services Advisory Committee, the School Safety and Security Committee and the Sheriffs and Deputy Sheriffs Education and Training Board;
One representative from each of the four legislative caucuses of the General Assembly or their designees;
The secretaries of Education, Health and Human Services, the state police commissioner, the executive director of PCCD and the director of the Office of Homeland Security; and
Any other ex-officio member as designated by the governor.
The council will meet within 60 days of the signing of the executive order and will be responsible for the following:
Adopting a public health and community engagement strategy that includes gun owners, health care professionals and victims of gun-related incidents;
Reviewing current background check processes for firearms purchasers and making recommendations for improvement;
Reviewing best practices and making recommendations that keep weapons from dangerous individuals;
Identifying and defining strategies across commonwealth agencies to align resources to reduce gun violence; and
Providing PCCD and the senior adviser with recommendations to reduce incidents of community violence, mass shootings and domestic violence, suicide and accidental shootings within 180 days of the initial meeting of the council.
New oversight and data sharing
Establish the Office of Gun Violence Prevention within PCCD and the Division of Violence Prevention within the Department of Health’s Bureau of Health Promotion and Risk Reduction. Together, the offices will tackle gun violence and prevention from both the public safety and public health perspectives.
Ramsey will serve as senior adviser to the governor, leading the commonwealth’s efforts on gun reform.
Charge the Office of Gun Violence Prevention with coordinating a system of focused police deterrence in neighborhoods and cities where violence is most extreme; work with other commonwealth agencies and stakeholders on community gun violence prevention and lost and stolen firearms reporting requirements for law enforcement.
PCCD will staff the new Special Council on Gun Violence, which will meet within 60 days of the executive order signing to begin developing a comprehensive plan to reduce gun violence.
Direct all departments to engage in a statewide effort at combating the systemic causes of violence, namely poverty, economic opportunities, mental and behavioral health supports, and hopelessness.
Establish a Violence Data Dashboard to provide a better understanding of the scope, frequency, geography and populations affected by violence, including counts, rates and factors contributing to violence.
Reducing commu- nity gun violence
Expand and support gun buyback programs through the Pennsylvania State Police and municipal police departments;
Direct PSP and the Municipal Police Officers’ Education and Training Commission to develop training on community gun violence prevention and focused deterrence;
Increase data sharing among jurisdictions to ensure broad geographical data is represented and tracked at the state level;
Partner with the courts to grow awareness and utilization of evidence-based juvenile justice programs that are proven to reduce violent crimes; and
Expand Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports, a proactive approach to improving school safety and promoting positive behavior, in schools statewide.
Combating mass shootings
Charge PSP with expanding its monitoring of hate groups, white nationalists and other fringe organizations and individuals and conducting investigations, online and in communities, related to any threats of violence by these groups or individuals;
Expand the “See Something/Send Something” program to receive reports of suspicions of mass shootings by text and use a campaign to raise awareness of the ability to contact police by text;
Coordinate PSP and MPOTEC with local first responders to develop training on how to facilitate and handle warnings of suspicions of potential mass shootings;
PSP and Pennsylvania Capitol Police will coordinate with agency secretaries to offer active shooter/incident management training to all employees, not just management;
Enroll Pennsylvania in the States for Gun Safety coalition, a multistate partnership charged with combating the gun violence by sharing information and establishing the nation’s first regional Gun Violence Research Consortium; and
Direct the Office of Homeland Security to launch an awareness campaign regarding the local, state and federal resources on safety planning and preparedness.
Halting domestic violence-related and self-inflicted shootings
Direct the Suicide Prevention Task Force to make immediate recommendations on steps to reduce suicides by gun;
Build on current mental health stigma campaigns that provide families and communities with real stories and statistics as well as information about how to access resources;
Develop a multidisciplinary suicide death review team to increase data collection and inform preventions efforts and policy decisions; and
Increase awareness of and strengthen services within the Student Assistance Program, which allows school districts to provide mental health referrals, across the commonwealth by providing technical assistance.
According to Wolf, the executive action will provide greater protection for all Pennsylvanians by targeting various types of gun violence with both preventive and proactive programs.
Wolf said he recognizes the Second Amendment but believes all Americans and Pennsylvanians have the inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which also must be protected.
“It is my honor and my duty to guide our commonwealth to a place where residents are not dying from gun violence while also upholding rights,” Wolf said. “By finding the right middle ground, we can create the best Pennsylvania — one of freedom without fear. The conversation of where this middle ground lays is ongoing, and I look forward to continuing it with the legislature as we move into the start of the fall session.”