Analysis: Gun control forces will be emboldened, face tall task By Brad Bumsted STATE CAPITOL REPORTER Tuesday, October 3, 2006 HARRISBURG -- The tragic shooting of Amish school girls and a teachers' aide in Lancaster County will increase pressure on the state Legislature, already debating anti-crime measures, to approve stricter gun control measures, political observers say. With the state House today poised to debate anti-crime measures in a previously scheduled informal session, handgun control advocates will be emboldened to seek passage of gun control measures. Intense national news coverage of the Lancaster shooting will intensify debate five weeks before the general election. It was unclear whether the shootings would result in a last-minute postponement of the House session. But the House appears unwilling to buck a long history of opposing gun control measures. In two days of informal voting last week, sparked by gun violence in Philadelphia, no bill won approval to limit gun purchases or usage. That seems unlikely to change. "Someone gets up one day and says, 'I'm gonna kill all the girls.' How do you legislate against that?" said Rep. Katie True, a Lancaster County Republican. Behind the scenes, though, gun control opponents were concerned about emotion carrying the day. The informal session, called a "Committee of the Whole," doesn't result in passage of bills that go to the Senate. Instead, it takes measure of an issue that later could be brought up as a bill in formal session. Gun control advocates hope to gain momentum from the informal session. Rep. Dwight Evans, D-Philadelphia, a leader in the push for handgun controls, said, "This tragedy illustrates in the starkest terms that no one is immune from gun violence. It is an epidemic and a crisis across this commonwealth. We must work together to solve this problem." Rep. Gib Armstrong, a Republican who represents the town of Bart and the crossroads of Nickel Mines and knew the families involved, said he never thought he'd see such violence again after leaving Somalia in 1993 after serving with the Marines. "I am physically ill," said Armstrong, who thought immediately of his own three small children when he heard about the shooting. G. Terry Madonna, a political science professor at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster County, said the shooting is the "type of horrific incident" that can force a legislative body to act. "It will likely put more pressure on the Legislature to do something about handgun reform -- how much, I don't know," Madonna said. "There will be renewed urgency to deal with it." But Madonna said it's "a tough culture" in which to attempt to restrict handgun use.There is long-standing sympathy in the Legislature for gun owners' rights, reflecting a lifestyle throughout much of Pennsylvania where gun ownership and hunting are the norm. "How do you legislate against craziness?" said Stephen Miskin, spokesman for House Majority Leader Sam Smith, R-Punxsutawney. One of the most high-profile bills -- limiting handgun purchases to one per month -- "isn't going to resolve this issue," Miskin said. "It's sad and unfortunate this occurred but the fact is, a one-gun-a-month bill would have no effect whatsoever," he said. Said True: "The whole thing just makes me sick. ... We're totally helpless. There's nothing we can do to change what happened." Brad Bumsted can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (717) 787-1405.