Opioids and guns don't — and shouldn't — mix In PA's emergency declaration


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If you want to spark a political fight in Pennsylvania, mention guns.

If you want to ignite agreement about a crisis we all recognize, mention opioids.

But please, let's not mix together the issues we fight about with the issues we agree upon. That's a recipe for inaction, a problem all too common in Harrisburg and one we simply cannot afford as an opioid crisis sweeps across the state.

Last Wednesday, State Sen. Scott Wagner offered a few backhanded compliments for Gov. Wolf's decision that day to declare a statewide disaster emergency to deal with the opioid crisis.

Wagner, a York County Republican seeking his party's nomination to challenge Wolf's bid for a second term in November, said he welcomed the governor's “decision to finally get serious" about the problem.

A day later, Wagner was back with a warning, claiming Wolf's declaration “has infringed on the rights of any Pennsylvanians who could generally carry a firearm in public without a license."

Wagner's theory: A statewide disaster emergency declaration triggers laws prohibiting the open carrying of firearms on public streets or property during that declaration.

Aside from the misplaced priorities this view represents that borders on the heartless — if not clueless — there's one big problem with that theory: The state issues emergency declarations every year — for hurricanes, windstorms, blizzards, floods and more — and Wagner can offer no examples of people being prosecuted for possessing firearms during those events

By Friday, Wagner was on a local talk-radio show, explaining how he was a co-sponsor of “pretty critical" legislation that would rewrite state laws to prevent emergency declarations from impinging on gun rights.

That legislation is so critical that it was introduced on Jan. 12, 2017 — one year and four days ago — and then immediately sent to a committee overseeing emergency preparedness. There it has sat — no hearings, no votes, no action at all — in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Wolf's team notes that firearms can't be confiscated during a disaster and the existing laws have no impact on people with concealed carry permits, hunters with a license or someone acting in self-defense with a firearm. The law's punishment amounts to a citation, and Wolf's administration said it worked in advance with law enforcement to make sure the opioid declaration didn't impact gun rights.

“Any implication otherwise to score cheap political points around the greatest public health crisis in our lifetimes is flat-out wrong," said Wolf spokesman J.J. Abbott.

Still, the issue lingers. State. Rep. Sheryl Delozier, a Cumberland County Republican, on Friday circulated a memo to her colleagues, asking them to co-sponsor legislation to protect gun rights during Wolf's declaration.

Delozier also had no examples to offer of people being prosecuted for possessing firearms during an emergency declaration.

It's our view that guns are a public health crisis, one that Harrisburg has virtually ignored. Inserting this issue into the public health crisis of opioids that is killing Pennsylvanians across the state is petty and wrong-headed. Stop looking for ways to trip up the state with a manufactured crisis when we are dealing with a true emergency in opioids.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Related: "My guns or my ganja? Firearm-owning pot fans face a choice": http://bit.ly/2rykkzE
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