Part of a Series
On September 27, 2022, a gunman fired more than 60 bullets at teenagers leaving football practice at their Philadelphia high school, killing a 14-year-old boy and injuring four other children. This tragedy is not unique. More than four years after 11 people were shot and killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, violence in Pennsylvania is increasingly fueled by guns.
According to the Pennsylvania State Police, the number of homicides in Pennsylvania decreased from 2012 to 2021, even as the share of homicides committed with a gun increased by 13 percent. This surge in gun-related violence is not limited to homicide: Since 2012, Pennsylvania has also experienced a stunning 27 percent increase in the share of aggravated assaults committed with a firearm.
Even with the increasing role of guns in violent crime, Pennsylvania Republicans have repeatedly blocked commonsense gun safety measures. With the exception of Sen. Pat Toomey (R), Republicans in the state have blocked bills to expand background checks on gun sales, despite overwhelming support from Pennsylvanians. They’ve blocked bills to institute an extreme risk protective order—shown to help prevent mass shootings and reduce gun suicides—despite support from state prosecutors and the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association. They’ve blocked bills to ensure the safe storage of guns around children and reduce the illegal sale and in-state trafficking of firearms, despite a significant portion of Pennsylvania gun crimes originating from within the state. Finally, instead of taking action to lower gun crime, state Republicans have accepted more than $268,000 in political contributions from the National Rifle Association (NRA) since 2017.
Even with the increasing role of guns in violent crime, Pennsylvania Republicans have repeatedly blocked commonsense gun safety measures.
The state’s MAGA Republicans are set to make violent crime in Pennsylvania even worse. If sworn in as governor, Doug Mastriano (R) has promised to pass a permitless carry policy that would allow individuals to carry loaded, concealed handguns in public without a permit—a type of radical law found to increase violent crime by 13 to 15 percent and gun homicides by 29 percent. Meanwhile, U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz has ridiculed extreme risk protection orders and so-called “illegal gun grabs”—despite the policy’s widespread support from law enforcement and its proven success in reducing firearm deaths.
Both candidates claim they will make Pennsylvania safer. But their actions will put more guns in the hands of dangerous people and drive a spike in violent crime.
Gun violence in Pennsylvania: By the numbers
Increase in the share of homicides committed with a firearm in Pennsylvania from 2012 to 2021
Increase in the share of aggravated assaults committed with a firearm in Pennsylvania from 2012 to 2021
Percentage of homicides in Pennsylvania that were committed with a firearm in 2021—a 13 percent surge from 2012
Amount Pennsylvania Republicans have received in political contributions from the NRA since 2017
Violent crime in Pennsylvania is increasingly fueled by guns
- According to 2020 FBI data, violent crime in Pennsylvania remains below the national average. Property crimes in the state—including rates of burglary, robbery, motor vehicle theft, and larceny crimes—have also plummeted.
- However, while homicides in Pennsylvania decreased from 2012 to 2021, according to the Pennsylvania State Police, the share of murders committed with a gun rose over that same period. In fact, firearm homicides accounted for 78 percent of all homicides in Pennsylvania in 2021—a 13 percent surge from 2012.
- This surge in gun violence is not limited to murder: From 2012 to 2021, Pennsylvania experienced a stunning 27 percent increase in the share of aggravated assaults committed with a firearm.
Gun sales and illegal gun trafficking have skyrocketed across Pennsylvania, contributing to rising rates of gun crime
- Statewide gun sales surged 49 percent from 2019 to 2020, hitting a record high of 1.1 million firearms lawfully purchased or privately transferred during the 2020 calendar year. Notably, 42 percent of all guns sold in 2020 were long guns.
- Pennsylvania gun sales again exceeded 1 million in 2021, with a total of 1,011,948 firearms sold or transferred. This represents a stunning 165 percent increase from annual sales in 2000.
- Philadelphia has experienced a particularly pronounced surge in firearm sales and gun trafficking. According to police records, a record 1,388 guns were reported stolen in Philadelphia in 2021, an 11 percent increase from 2020 and a 38 percent increase from 2019. From 2014 to 2020, six firearm retailers in Philadelphia sold more than 11,000 weapons later used in gun crimes.
- In 2021, Philadelphia issued a high of 52,230 new gun permits—required for both concealed and open carry of a weapon. This marked a stunning 600 percent increase over the previous year as the city’s shootings climbed to record levels.
- Increased access to guns has also contributed to rising firearm deaths in rural communities. Pennsylvania’s firearm suicide rate has increased by 20 percent in the past decade, higher than the national increase of 13 percent. Rural counties in Pennsylvania have significantly higher rates of firearm suicide than urban counties.
While Gov. Tom Wolf has pushed legislation to reduce gun crime, Republicans in Pennsylvania have repeatedly blocked commonsense gun safety measures
- In 2011, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett signed reckless, gun lobby-backed legislation encouraging residents to respond with deadly force to perceived threats.
- Despite surging gun sales in Philadelphia and across the state, Gov. Corbett signed another gun lobby bill in 2014 to reinforce a law blocking local governments from passing their own ordinances to tackle gun crime. Republicans passed this bill over the fierce opposition of 28 municipalities—including Philadelphia and 10 surrounding localities—that had worked to reduce gun violence in their communities. Philadelphia’s ordinance to ban guns on city playgrounds was recently overturned by a judge.
- After a gunman killed 17 high school students and teachers in Parkland, Florida, in 2018, Republicans bowed to the NRA and defeated bills to expand background checks and keep guns from dangerous people. These measures were supported by 86 percent of Pennsylvanians and the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association.
- In 2019, 10 months after a gunman killed 11 people and wounded six at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and following mass shootings in Texas and Ohio, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) again asked the legislature to ban assault weapons, institute universal background checks, and pass an extreme risk protection order. Instead, Republicans in the legislature passed—and Gov. Wolf subsequently vetoed—a bill to weaken gun laws.
- In 2022, after a mass shooting in Pittsburgh left two teenagers dead and eight injured, MAGA Republicans blocked a package of gun safety legislation that would have banned assault weapons, required safe storage of firearms, and established an extreme risk protection order shown to prevent mass shootings and reduce gun suicides.
- In 2022, Pennsylvania Republicans also blocked measures to reduce the illegal sale and trafficking of firearms, including legislation that would require lost or stolen firearms to be reported to law enforcement. According to U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) data, more than 8,824 of the 11,386 traceable gun crimes recovered in Pennsylvania in 2021 came from within the state.
If sworn into office, MAGA Republicans Doug Mastriano and Mehmet Oz would further weaken Pennsylvania gun laws and drive a spike in gun crime.
- In 2021, Doug Mastriano and other Republicans in the state Senate and House of Representatives passed a bill—later vetoed by Gov. Wolf—that would have eliminated the requirement for individuals to obtain a license before carrying a concealed firearm. States without concealed carry licenses have an 11 percent higher rate of homicide than states that require a license.
- Doug Mastriano and his fellow MAGA Republicans passed legislation in 2022 to further hamstring local governments from reducing gun crime in their communities. Gov. Wolf later vetoed this bill, noting that it could keep the city of Philadelphia—which has experienced 430 homicides in 2022 to date—from enforcing local laws to combat gun crime already on the books.
- Doug Mastriano has promised that as governor, he would allow individuals to carry loaded, concealed handguns in public without first undergoing a background check, obtaining a license, or receiving any firearm training. Similar permitless carry policies have been associated with a 13 to 15 percent increase in violent crime and a 12.9 percent increase in shootings by police.
- Senate candidate Mehmet Oz opposes extreme risk protection laws, which have been endorsed by former President Donald Trump and are associated with reduced firearm In 2020, states with extreme risk protection, or “red flag,” laws averaged 11.25 firearm deaths per 100,000 residents, whereas states without these laws averaged 17.5 firearm deaths per 100,000 residents.
- Mehmet Oz refuses to say if he would have supported federal gun safety legislation passed earlier this year, including provisions to keep convicted domestic abusers from gaining access to firearms. From 2015 to 2019, 118 women in Pennsylvania were fatally shot by an intimate partner. And notably, more than half of all intimate partner homicide victims were killed with a gun.
- Mehmet Oz’s extremism has earned him the support of the NRA, which gave his campaign an “AQ” rating—the highest possible rating for a candidate without a voting record. The NRA has spent more than $1 million to boost Oz’s senate candidacy, including nearly $400,000 in support of Oz and nearly $800,000 against opponent John Fetterman.
Pennsylvania’s violence problem is increasingly a gun problem. Yet the state’s Republicans have repeatedly blocked proven, bipartisan solutions to reduce gun violence and tackle violent crime. MAGA Republicans Mehmet Oz and Doug Mastriano claim they will keep Pennsylvanians safe. But data—and their NRA backing—show the opposite to be true. As U.S. senator and governor, their policies would lead to more guns in the hands of dangerous people, more illegal gun sales, and a surge in Pennsylvania gun crime.
The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.
the Center for American Progress Action Fund
Explore The Series
As Republican elected officials and candidates continue to make false claims about Democrats’ record on crime and public safety, the Center for American Progress Action Fund is setting the record straight about the true cause of increases in violent crime: access to guns. This series of fact sheets shows how increases in crime are directly linked to dangerous gun laws passed by Republicans.