Sen. Casey: Hate crime offenders should not be allowed to own guns |
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Bob Bauder
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Scranton

Criminals convicted of a hate crime should not be allowed to own a gun, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey said Monday, a day after a gunman with no criminal record killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Joined by Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, Casey, D-Scranton, proposed legislation to ban firearm ownership among those convicted of crimes against people based on race, color, religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Casey said the Hate Crime Prevention Act wouldn’t have prevented the man who carried out the massacre in Orlando from owning a gun, but the government has to start somewhere.

“I think we have to take steps to make sure we can dampen or reduce the likelihood that an act will occur in the future by dealing with hate on the front end as opposed to waiting for it to fully blossom into the kind of violence that we saw this weekend,” he said.

Misdemeanor offenses such as simple assault, intimidation and property crimes would fall under the provisions in the bill.

“If you are convicted of that type of a hate crime, you should not be able to own a gun,” Casey said during a news conference at his office in Downtown.

Authorities have identified Omar Mateen, 29, of Port St. Lucie, Fla., as the shooter who committed the deadly attack at Pulse, the gay nightclub, early Sunday morning. Mateen had no criminal record and was able to legally purchase guns, including an AR-15.

Peduto, who has advocated unsuccessfully for mandatory reporting of lost and stolen handguns, said he supports Casey’s bill.

“We can certainly take actions to be able to limit the amount of damage that is done so we don’t have to have these types of press conferences,” said Peduto, who wore a “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” lapel pin.

Casey said legislation covering gun ownership has been a hard sell in Congress, but he urged members to “examine their conscience” in wake of the Orlando shooting. He said it would take months to develop support and consideration for the bill.

“I don’t expect things to move quickly, but the worst thing we could do is to just give in to the prevailing wisdom and say, ‘Well, nothing will change. We’re just moving on to other topics.’ ”

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Lehigh County, supports legislation that would make it harder for terrorists, criminals, and mentally ill people to obtain guns, spokeswoman E.R. Anderson said. She did not respond to a question about whether Toomey would support Casey’s bill.

“Sen. Toomey knows we could be doing more to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them,” Anderson said in an email.

Under Pennsylvania law, people convicted of most felonies and some misdemeanors are prohibited from owning guns. The list of offenses includes murder, kidnapping and rape. It also includes misdemeanor domestic violence and drug convictions.

“The general criteria is misdemeanors that are domestic violence-related or drug-related will prohibit you from owning a firearm or from getting a license to carry a firearm,” said Deputy Ryan Foster, who heads the firearms section in the Allegheny County Sheriff’s Office.

FBI Uniform Crime Reports do not track hate crimes committed with a gun. The FBI reported that more than 35,000 hate crimes occurred from 2010-14. More than 6,400 were reported in 2014, including 50 in Pennsylvania, according to the FBI.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or [email protected].

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