HARRISBURG -- Dueling demonstrations at the state Capitol today aired two sides of the debate over regulating firearms that has grown louder since state lawmakers returned to session.
On the Capitol steps this morning, about 150 people stood amid temperatures in the mid-teens as speakers organized by a group called Pennsylvania Responsible Citizens urged active opposition to any new gun laws being crafted in response to the school shooting Newtown, Conn.
"We seek to remind our legislators and our citizens that the Second Amendment is not about hunting or sports or any other misleading notion," said Bob Sklar, of Philadelphia, who pointed to the amendment's "shall not be infringed" phrasing as strong protection for gun ownership.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, told the crowd that he has introduced House Bill 357 -- the number alluding to a type of handgun, drawing cheers and chuckles.
His measure would require the new attorney general, Democrat Kathleen Kane, to intervene against any federal gun-control efforts.
"Holding on to your liberty is going to take eternal vigilance," Mr. Metcalfe said. "We cannot rest because the liberals who want to take away your freedom will not rest."
A noontime rally held inside by CeaseFirePA drew a similarly sized crowd, with some attendees holding pictures of relatives who were killed by gunfire.
"I'm tired of watching children die," said Mary Beth Hacke, whose 14-month-old son, Ryan, was killed by a stray bullet in Homestead in 1997. "How many of our children do we have to bury before action is taken to reduce this epidemic of gun violence that is sweeping across the commonwealth?"
As she and others spoke -- including other mothers who lost sons to gun violence and a Philadelphia deputy mayor whose father was shot in front of him as a child -- some participants from the morning gun-rights rally held pro-Second Amendment signs and watched.
State Rep. Dan Frankel, a Democrat from Squirrel Hill, said lawmakers are organizing a "PA Safe Caucus" to work on "an adequate response" to the recent shootings.
"All of us have to come together to find common-sense solutions that respects the individual liberties of all while at the same time advancing safety and protection for every single Pennsylvanian," Mr. Frankel said.
Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning gave an initial endorsement to a resolution that would create a task force looking at the causes of gun violence, with a particular emphasis on preventative steps related to mental-health services.
"We're never going to stop them all, but we can certainly stop a major part of them if we go to the causes," said Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, a Montgomery County Republican.
Harrisburg bureau chief Laura Olson: firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254.