Council passes controversial bill on stolen guns

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Pittsburgh City Council gave its first approval today to legislation requiring that anyone report a lost or stolen firearm report that within 24 hours or potentially face a $500 fine.

The 6-1 vote, with two abstentions, sets up a final vote likely next week, which would send the legislation to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl for his signature or veto, and then potentially to the courts, where similar measures have been challenged.

"Who really cares about it being unconstitutional?" said Councilwoman Tonya Payne, a supporter. "This is what's right to do, and if this means that we have to go out and have a court battle, then that's fine ... We have plenty of dead bodies coming up in our streets every single day, and that is unacceptable."

The lone no vote was by Councilman Ricky Burgess, who argued that it would be a "false cure" that would be "particularly cruel" to his violence-plagued northeastern Pittsburgh district.

"This legislation will not strike a blow to straw purchasers," he said. "This ordinance will not be enforced, no loopholes will be closed and no lives will be saved, because no municipality can legally regulate firearms of any kind, at any time, for any reason."

Council's vote is a win for groups engaged in a statewide push to get local rules for reporting lost and stolen guns. The state House rejected a statewide bill in April.

Advocates appearing before council today argued that people called straw purchasers frequently buy guns, then sell them to criminals who could not pass the required background checks. When the guns are used in crimes and traced back to the straw purchaser, he or she just claims the weapon was lost or stolen. Unless that can be disproved, the straw purchaser is off the hook.

"It's a loophole that allows illegal gun traffickers to simply state that a weapon was stolen," said Councilman William Peduto, one of three authors of the bill along with Council President Doug Shields and Councilman Bruce Kraus.

Councilmen Dan Deasy and Patrick Dowd abstained.

Mr. Dowd said that in passing the measure council is "not really effectively changing the situation on the ground," and is inviting a lawsuit.

Philadelphia has sought to enforce similar legislation, but the effort has been tied up in litigation. Legally, the question is whether the state ban on local laws on "the transfer, ownership, transportation or possession" of guns extends to the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.

The Commonwealth Court threw out Philadelphia's measure, and other gun control rules there. The matter is heading for the state Supreme Court.

"To me the question is wide open" on whether such rules are allowed, said Mr. Shields. "This is where you go in [to court] and you make your arguments."



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