Our Interview with John Hohenwarter

You’ve all been very patient in waiting for this, so here it is. My interview with John Hohenwarter, NRA’s Pennsylvania State Liaison. My questions are bolded, with John’s answers in italics. Hopefully I managed to cover enough ground that people will be reasonably pleased with the questions and answers.

First, I want to thank you for taking the time to talk to my readers today. Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your history with the gun rights issue here in Pennsylvania?

I was born and raised in Pennsylvania and currently reside in Lancaster County.  I’m a lifelong gun owner, hunter and shooting enthusiast.  I’m married and the father of three future hunters.  My professional experience is in the government relations field for the past 18 years, 12 years with NRA and six years for the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs.

The big question on everyone’s mind is Castle Doctrine. It’s been a long, hard fight to get it, but it’s finally on the way to the Governor. Can you describe the difficulties that were encountered getting this bill through to final passage?

Over the last several legislative sessions, there have been a number of hurdles with this legislation involving the House, Senate and Governor’s Office. This session, “Castle Doctrine” legislation was introduced in both chambers – HB40 (Perry-R) and SB842 (Alloway-R).  Both pieces of legislation were stymied in committee during most of the legislative session.

Over the last several weeks there has been much misinformation concerning NRA activity with this legislation.  Therefore, I think it is important to share with your readers a brief overview of what occurred with “Castle Doctrine” over the last several months and ILA’s roll in the process.

In May of this year, Chairman Caltagirone made good on his commitment to allow a House Judiciary Committee vote on House Bill 40.  The legislation was voted out of committee and referred to the House Appropriations Committee where it remained blocked for several months by Chairman Evans.

Because Chairman Evans refused to move the bill, Representative Perry filed a discharge petition to force a committee vote to move the bill.  However, before the discharge petition had the opportunity to be voted by the House, Chairman Evans agreed to a House Appropriations Committee vote that resulted in the legislation being passed and moved out of committee and placed on the House Calendar.

During this time frame, NRA was also working on an alternative plan in the Senate by advocating a “Castle Doctrine” amendment to HB1926.  This plan of attack was supported by Senator Alloway, who agreed to offer the amendment, and was seconded by some members of the Senate Republican leadership team.  Not knowing the future of HB40 in the House, this course of action would allow another option to pass the measure before the end of the legislative session.

However, NRA had opposition from some leaders in the Senate who were uncooperative in this effort despite intense lobbying efforts and overall support by a majority of the members of the Senate.  In fact, NRA had a commitment from House democratic leadership on concurrence if the Senate would send the bill to the House.  The reason the House agreed to this process was because of the high probability that a House floor flight would occur on HB40 opening the door to a flurry of bad amendments. Unfortunately at the time, the Senate did not cooperate with this effort.

So with time running out, NRA continued to lobby the House to pass HB40.  Finally, the Democratic House Leadership agreed to forge ahead and scheduled a vote.  The bill was passed by the House on October 5th and sent to the Senate where it was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  Now the stage was set for a battle in the Senate and it was time to turn up the heat.

With only three days left on the Senate schedule, there were now two options available. Our office decided that the first option would be to pursue a Committee vote on HB40 and send a clean bill to the Governor’s Office.  However, this option had to occur on Tuesday, October 12th of the following week because of Constitution provisions that require a bill to be considered on three different days before being voted on the floor.

NRA was assured by Republican leadership that a vote would occur in committee on Tuesday to allow a sufficient time period for legislative consideration.  However, amendments were now being drafted and efforts were underway to amend HB40 in committee with anti-gun/anti-hunting provisions.  In addition, Republican support to kill the amendments in committee continued to dwindle throughout the day, which created a rift among Republican members.

Less than 10 minutes before the committee vote, Senator Alloway and I had a meeting off the Senate floor with Republican leadership concerning the pending vote.  At that time, our concerns were confirmed that HB40 was in jeopardy and the committee did not have the support to kill several amendments filed to the bill.  It was at that time the decision was made by Senate leadership to pursue the second option, which was to amend HB1926 and battle the amendments on the floor where they could be defeated.

Fortunately, the amendment process for Castle Doctrine was successful and the anti-gun amendment (Florida Loophole) offered by Senator Leach was defeated and all other amendments were withdrawn.  House Bill 1926 was passed and sent to the House for concurrence.  And as we all now know, the House concurred this week on the measure sending it to the Governor for approval.

There has been considerable criticism over the decision to amend HB1926 with Castle Doctrine rather than pushing through HB40, can you explain what the reasoning was there?

This is as an example of the misinformation that I was referring to earlier. If House Bill 40 would have been voted by the Senate Judiciary Committee, “Florida Loophole” would have been amended into the bill by a vote of 8-6 and there is a good possibility that mandatory reporting of lost and stolen firearms, as well as a ban on pigeon shoots, would have be amended into the measure as well.  The following would have been the roll call vote on the Senator Leach’s “Florida Loophole” amendment in committee based upon the roll call that was taken on the Senate floor on the same amendment:

Greenleaf, Stewart J. , Chair
White, Mary Jo, Vice Chair
Leach, Daylin , Minority Chair
Browne, Patrick M.
Earll, Jane M.
Costa, Jay
Fontana, Wayne D.
Stack, Michael J.
Boscola, Lisa M.
Gordner, John R.
Orie, Jane Clare
Piccola, Jeffrey E
Rafferty, John C., Jr.
Scarnati, Joseph B., III, ex-officio

Therefore, a decision was made by Republican Leadership to avoid the committee process and vote down the same amendments filed to HB1926 on the floor.  This course of action could still get a bill to the Governor’s desk since the House had 5 days scheduled for session after the November election.  Keep in mind, without NRA orchestrating an “Option 2”, “Castle Doctrine” would have died that week in the Senate.

However, it is unfortunate that there was a breakdown in the Republican controlled Senate Judiciary Committee which ultimately killed HB40.  As a result, the NRA-PVF lowered grades and removed endorsements from sitting Senators who were up for election this cycle.

Any word on whether Rendell signs or vetoes the bill?

At this time,  no one knows what Governor Rendell will do.  I do believe that a veto is being considered and I ask all NRA members, gun owners and anyone else who values self-defense contact the Governor’s Office.

The Senate certainly presented some obstacles for getting Castle Doctrine passed. Any fear that the political climate in the Senate could get worse for gun rights? What are some things activists can do to help?

After going through this latest exercise in the Senate, we need to solidify support for a pro-gun agenda in the Republican Caucus.  NRA members and gun owners should contact their Senator between now and next year to reaffirm their support for protecting the 2nd Amendment.

There has been criticism by some that NRA hasn’t worked well with other organizations here in PA. Is NRA willing to work with other groups?

Contrary to the criticism, NRA makes it a point to work with grassroots organizations not only in Pennsylvania but around the country.  We are fortunate to have some outstanding activists and organizations in the state that make the phone calls, write the letters, and otherwise engage with their elected officials.  These individuals make our job a lot easier.

I know at times it can be frustrating to some activists that not all the insider information is shared with the grassroots.  However, this is not always possible, and most activists recognize the nature of the business.  In fact, NRA’s legislative strategy is often so sensitive that wide knowledge could jeopardize the final outcome.

For example, when HB40 came up for a vote on the House floor, only a few people knew that Republican leadership intended use House Rule 61 to cut off debate.   Our office was privy to this information; however, to send out an alert about this tactic would have jeopardized the legislation.

At the end of the day it’s about getting the job done and not about who gets the credit and I believe most activists and organizations are on the same page.

There are a lot of other issues facing Pennsylvania once we get Castle Doctrine passed. Can you discuss what might be future legislative priorities?

As you know, there are a number of issues on the horizon affecting gun owners and sportsmen in Pennsylvania.  For example, the usefulness of PICS, problems associated with lawful transportation of firearms, strengthening of the preemption statute and many others.  Our office will be looking at all these issues and others to prioritize our efforts for the next session.

Thanks for taking the time to talk to my readers today, and I hope we can get an opportunity to do this again sometime.

I want to thank you for the opportunity to discuss these important issues and look forward to a successful 2011-12 legislative session.

13 Responses to “Our Interview with John Hohenwarter”

  1. LBaker says:

    I’m not so sure that senate rules would allow those amendments to HB40.

    When in Order
    1. Amendments shall be in order when a bill is reported or re-reported from committee, on second consideration and on third consideration. No amendments shall be received by the presiding officer or considered by the Senate which destroys the general sense of the original bill, or is not appropriate and closely allied to the original purpose of the bill. Any Member, upon request, must be furnished a copy of a proposed amendment and be given a reasonable opportunity to consider same before being required to vote thereon.

  2. Sebastian says:

    The bill went to Senate Judiciary first. The amendments would have been added there. Those are rules for bills reported from committee.

  3. LBaker says:

    Sorry Sebastion, it reads “when a bill is reported or re-reported from committee,”. That’s fairly clear…

  4. Sebastian says:

    Reported means that the committee sends it to the floor. That’s the word “from.” There are circumstances the Senate can send the bill back to committee, in which case it gets re-reported from the committee to the Senate floor.

  5. Sebastian says:

    And if that means no amendments can be put on the floor at all, how was there an attempt to add Florida Loophole to HB1926? It allows amendments in second and third readings, provided those other conditions are met.

    Whether the motion is out of order or not is usually up to the secretary/parliamentarian. If the parliamentarian says the amendment is in order, then it’s in order.

  6. LBaker says:

    So you are saying it can be amended in committee with a completely different purpose? I really don’t think so. From reading this though, I could see the argument being made that HB1926 should not have been allowed to include CD language…

  7. Sebastian,

    Thanks for taking the time to talk to John, and John, thanks for the answers. A good number of my questions about the specifics of working with state level groups weren’t asked, but I guess we’ll have to leave that for another day. I do appreciate your addressing the HB1926 question, although some of what you said seems to contradict the information we were receiving, most notably the issue about amendments; that’s why I’ve stressed a desire for more cooperation in many of my comments here.

    In any event, let’s hope Rendell doesn’t veto the damn thing…

  8. Sebastian says:

    It was getting kind of long to ask everything. He went into a lot of detail on the history of the effort. More than I expected. I tried to get your concerned addressed with question six.

  9. Sebastian says:


    Chamber rules are quite arcane, so I’m not going to claim to be an expert. But basically, the bill comes up from the House, and gets assigned to a committee. That committee is supposed to report the bill to the floor, either with amendments or without. On the first floor consideration, no amendments may be offered. On second and third consideration, amendments may be offered, provided they are in order according to the rules.

    The Senate rules require the bill to be considered on three separate days before a vote may be taken on it.

  10. Dannytheman says:

    This is half what I expected. I made some assumptions that it was going to be, “The NRA knows more than you” and so “We make the decisions.”
    Money talks, BS walks. NRA has deeper pockets and gets listened to more. If we don’t like it, maybe we need to give FOAC more money so they have more clout. I know I give 500 dollars a year to the NRA approximately in various ways. I give FOAC my 10 dollar fee and buy an occasional raffle ticket or 2 to win a gun.
    You might not like the way it is, but it is what it is!!
    Thanks for answering John. You are not going to win with all, but some people get it.

  11. Clint1911 says:

    I also see the NRA has a more “long term” approach to gun rights.. Twenty years ago the “gun lobby” only dealt with the problem at hand, now the NRA deals with current issues without creating new problems. This we sometimes lose a short term goal but it is one less fight down the road.

    This, however, chafes the local groups. Understandable, since no one likes to see his effort wasted because of a poison pill.

  12. WOP2 says:

    You call my comments regarding the NRA’s interference “hogwash”. I was in the gallery when HB40 went to the Senate clean, no amendments, no frills. You’ve been duped by a smooth talker who wishes only to make certain the gun issue never goes away. If it did, he’d have to get a real job.

  13. Sebastian says:

    It went into the Senate clean. Go look at the judiciary committee votes on Florida Loophole and explain to me how you get that bill out of committee clean with as little time as was left and with the GOP fighting with itself.


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