In order to buy a handgun in Pennsylvania, a would-be purchaser must submit to a well-established and thorough background check designed to prevent those with mental illness, violent felony records or a history of domestic abuse from purchasing firearms. The Pennsylvania system (PICS) is highly regarded as effective and efficient and has blocked over 140,000 prohibited purchasers since its inception.

In stark contrast, anybody can buy a “long gun” from a private seller in a private sale, with no background check at all. A long gun is a shotgun, a rifle, a semi-automatic assault weapon or the like. Private sales occur at gun shows, in parking lots and just about anywhere — including online.

This contradiction stems from a loophole in our gun legislation — long guns were historically seen as instruments for hunting and sport, and therefore thought to be less likely to be used in crime and violent acts and thus less deserving of regulation.

Times have changed. Today, long guns are used in over 10 percent of gun murders and 34 percent of mass shootings. They are used disproportionately by domestic abusers to kill women, and they are also used disproportionately by criminals against law enforcement officers. In addition, the AR-15 type assault rifle is the most popular long gun in the U.S. market and has been the weapon of choice for many recent mass shooters. The shooters in both the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and the Aurora movie theater massacre both used assault-style long guns.

Eliminating the long gun loophole from Pennsylvania’s background check requirement would keep these dangerous guns out of the hands of those who should not have them, and polls show that the vast majority of Pennsylvania residents support taking such action. In fact, one Quinnipiac University poll found that 95 percent of respondents favor closing this loophole.

Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in both the PA House (HB 1010) and the PA Senate (SB 1049) to close the long gun loophole, and there is simply no legitimate reason it should not pass. On Monday, May 16, residents from all over the state participated in a massive rally in Harrisburg to underscore to our legislators the intensity of citizen support for this common sense legislation. I was proud to be there, and I encourage all residents who care about the safety of our families to get involved as well. Contact your state representative and senator. Urge them to support the proposed bills (or thank them if they already do), but further — urge them to stand up to fellow legislators and/or party leadership who might block its progress, against the will of you and I, and the great majority of Pennsylvanians.

Elaine Paul Schaefer is a commissioner in Radnor Township and the Democratic candidate for state representative of the 165th District. She can be reached at

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