Two of Allentown’s state representatives were not surprised to learn AR-15s were used in the mass shooting that wounded 10 people, but it’s strengthened their resolve that the “weapon of war” needs to be banned.
Just before 2 a.m. Thursday, a masked trio of men carrying AR-15s sprayed bullets into a crowd outside of Deja Vu Nightclub, 343 W. Hamilton St., wounding 10 people.
Angelo Luis Rivera, 20, of the 600 block of North Fourth Street, stands accused of driving the three armed men to the nightclub in what police are describing as “gang-related violence.” The shooters have not been arrested.
Reps. Peter Schweyer and Mike Schlossberg (both D-Lehigh) issued a statement Friday morning reiterating their support for an assault weapons ban in Pennsylvania.
“It was almost predictable that one of the firearms used in the Deja Vu shooting was an AR-15,” Schweyer said. “I say predictable because just last year, there was a homicide — across the street from my home — where a woman was murdered by her partner with an AR-15. This weapon has become the go-to choice to for murderers across the nation.”
The lawmakers are cosponsors of a bill Rep. Ed. Gainey (D-Allegheny) has introduced that effectively bans the possession, purchase, transfer, use or manufacture of an assault weapon in the state, making exceptions for members of the military and law enforcement in an official capacity. The proposal would grandfather in existing assault weapon owners.
“This completely unregulated tool of mass violence isn’t used by law-abiding gun owners for hunting,” Schweyer said. “In far too many cases this is an all-too-accessible weapon of war that has no place on the streets of our community.”
The National Rifle Association, which opposes assault weapons bans, says that AR-15s are the most commonly used rifles in marksmanship competitions, training and home defense, according to its website. It is so popular it should actually be called America’s Rifle, the association says.
Americans owned more than 16 million AR-15s in 2018 and buy hundreds of new ones annually, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. AR-15-style weapons are semiautomatic meaning the shooter must pull the trigger to fire each shot from the magazine, which can hold many rounds. They can be modified with bump stocks — seen in the Las Vegas shooting — that effectively make them function like an automatic weapon.
“We have repeatedly seen mass shootings where AR-15 semi-automatic rifles are used: Newtown, San Bernardino, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, and now Allentown,” Schlossberg said. “No community is safe from the effects of deadly assault weapons.”
The NRA argues on its website that gun-control supporters are wrong to claim “assault weapons” are used in most mass shootings. Calling it a false narrative, the NRA contends mass shootings have been committed with all types of firearms.
“The terrorist attacks in France and Belgium show that gun bans — including those on semi-automatic firearms and standard-capacity magazines — don’t prevent crime. In both countries, the ownership of firearms, including semi-automatics, is severely restricted,” the NRA states on its website.
Schweyer has also introduced a bill banning the sale of assault weapons to individuals under the age of 21, with an exception for members of the armed services. Schlossberg is also a cosponsor of this measure. In Pennsylvania, you can purchase a long gun, like a rifle, at age 18 but cannot buy a handgun until 21.
“One of those arrested in connection to the Deja Vu shooting was a 20-year-old,” noted Schweyer. “It is completely legal for him to purchase an AR-15 with no background check and no record of sale. He can legally own and operate this weapon before he can legally consume a beer. This is not only absurd, it’s deadly.”
Both Allentown representatives are members of the PA SAFE Caucus, a group of legislators who wish to reduce all types of violence through adequate funding for mental health services, stronger tools for law enforcement, resources to curb the effects of addiction and illegal drugs and solutions that reduce gun violence and promote public safety.
There are many contributing factors to gun violence, Schlossberg said, and the two legislators are constantly fighting for more resources to improve mental health services. He noted they recently announced a $500,000 state grant to the Lehigh Valley Regional Intelligence and Investigation Center.
“These efforts will never be effective if we continue to allow assault weapons to flood into our communities,” Schlossberg said.
Both of the house bills have been referred to the judiciary committee and no actions have been taken to consider the proposals.
“Good legislation to ban these types of weapons has been introduced in the House of Representatives, but the absolute power of the gun lobby in Harrisburg has buried this legislation so deeply and created a climate of fear of political retribution that we can’t even get a hearing to have anything considered,” Schlossberg said.
Lehigh Valley Live