HARRISBURG -- Christine Licata, a mother of two who lives in Cumberland County, said she never paid much attention to politics and government, and would turn away from news reports of mass shootings.
That all changed Dec. 14, when she got word of the massacre of 20 children and six staffers at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn.
"As the news unraveled, so did I," she said at a news conference Wednesday. "I felt it was my kids."
She drove to her children's school to be sure they were safe, the first step in her transition to vigorous activism for gun control.
Ms. Licata is now a member of Moms Demand Action and took the stage in the Capitol with her 6-year-old daughter, Anna. She was one of several who called for a vote on legislation to close a loophole in Pennsylvania's gun laws. At present, purchasers of long-barrel weapons like shotguns and rifles can avoid the background checks required of other gun buyers.
Rep. Steve Santarsiero, D-Bucks, sponsor of a bill to close the loophole, said polls have shown that 90 percent or more of the public, including an overwhelming majority of gun owners, favors comprehensive background checks.
"And yet the word in the Capitol is that this bill will not run," he said. "The people of Pennsylvania deserve a vote."
He was joined at the news conference by more than 100 supporters of stricter gun laws, including several House Democrats, state Attorney General Kathleen Kane and the groups CeaseFire PA, Moms Demand Action and Mayors Against Illegal Guns.
Mr. Santarsiero's bill is in the House Judiciary Committee, whose chairman, Ron Marsico, R-Dauphin, said later that he "considered it prudent to await federal action before considering what, if any, amendments to state law are appropriate to call up for consideration" in the committee.
Wednesday's joint announcement by U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., of a bipartisan deal on background checks showed why it was appropriate to wait, he said.
Mr. Santarsiero said the news out of Washington was encouraging, but said there were no guarantees about what, if anything, would reach President Barack Obama's desk.
"We have to be focused on what we can do in Pennsylvania," he said. "This is not something that should be politically a heavy lift."
The Pennsylvania Instant Check System has enabled state police to stop more than 100,000 people from getting firearms over the last 15 years, he said.
Ms. Kane, who shortly after taking office this year closed the "Florida loophole" that allowed Pennsylvanians to obtain Florida permits to carry concealed weapons even if they were denied one in this state, called Mr. Santarsiero's bill "a practical and common-sense approach."
Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, said he has worked on gun control since 1999, the year of the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. "We had some momentum and interest ... quite frankly, it faded. Shame on us," he said.
Rick Gray, mayor of Lancaster and chairman of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, said the legislation has statewide support. Mayors "see on a daily basis what illegal trafficking of guns and illegal use of guns has caused in our communities."
"We support the Second Amendment, too," said Rep. Ronald G. Waters, D-Philadelphia. "But we support public safety first."
Jon Schmitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1868.