By Tony Romeo

HARRISBURG, Pa. (CBS) – The state House has passed and sent to the Senate a bill that would create tougher penalties for convicted felons who are caught carrying guns.

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Right now, a convicted felon who commits certain crimes while possessing a firearm must get a sentence of at least five years in prison. The bill would require a five year minimum sentence for a felon possessing a gun even if no new crime is committed.

Delaware County Democrat Greg Vitali was one of only seven “no” votes in the House.

“There’s no empirical evidence that it will reduce gun violence.”

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But Montgomery County Republican Todd Stephens, the sponsor of the bill, is convinced it will be a deterrent.

“These are the guys that prisons are built for. And you know what, we have an obligation to protect our citizens.”

Stephens says the measure would also define a felon caught with a firearm as a “crime of violence” triggering tougher minimum sentences for second and third offenses as well.

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The bill goes to the Senate, which could take it up as soon as next month.