Fitting tribute: The way to honor fallen officers is good gun laws

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With the three slain Pittsburgh police officers having been laid to rest with the city's full measure of sorrow and respect, it is time to honor these brave men in another way. All the sad words have been said -- now is the time for action.

Gov. Ed Rendell took up this challenge last Wednesday at a news conference in Harrisburg. Flanked by mayors and police officials from around the state, Mr. Rendell made an eloquent plea for legislation, both national and state, that police say they need to combat gun violence.

None of it could reasonably be considered an attack on the Second Amendment. All of it, as Gov. Rendell said, is merely common sense.

While other parts of the state have also been wracked by gun violence, especially Philadelphia, the April 4 tragedy in Stanton Heights provided the governor the freshest and most vivid example of the problem. There in solidarity as he spoke was Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, his police chief and public safety director.

City police allege that Richard Poplawski used an AK-47 assault rifle among other weapons in shooting more than 100 rounds in the Stanton Heights tragedy -- yet another argument for a new federal ban on assault weapons. Such a law was in place for 10 years but the prohibition was irresponsibly allowed to lapse in 2004.

To refute those who think gun control laws do not work, Mr. Rendell quoted federal statistics that showed that use of assault weapons in crimes fell 20 percent after the federal ban took effect and increased 11 percent after it ended.

Mr. Rendell stated the obvious -- that weapons like AK-47s have no legitimate use in civil society. They are not used for hunting; their sole purpose is to kill people with more efficiency. Congress has ample reason to pass a new assault-weapons bill, just as the governor recommends.

But what should be done is unlikely to be done because of the unyielding opposition of the gun lobby. That is even more reason for the Pennsylvania General Assembly, itself long in the thrall of the National Rifle Association, to pass measures that would help the police. Mr. Rendell mentioned several.

In the first place, the governor called on the Legislature to re-instate the option it took away in 1996 for municipalities to enact their own gun laws. Beyond argument, cities like Pittsburgh have their own special problems that are not necessarily the same as those in rural areas.

There's nothing wrong -- and everything right -- in giving cities like Pittsburgh what its mayor, its police and people want. Don't tell us that a patchwork quilt of gun laws might be inconvenient; needless tragedies are inconvenient, too.

While the Legislature is at it, how about requiring gun owners to report their lost or stolen guns as a way to thwart the straw purchases of weapons that police say help arm criminals? Although the proposal would not infringe on the Second Amendment in the slightest, an irresponsible Legislature last year could not find the courage to pass that modest requirement.

Now is the time to act. People lined the streets in tribute to the fallen officers, they wrote letters and poems, they mourned in private and public. Yet supporting the police isn't just crying for them when they die, but helping them when they live. As Pittsburgh Police Chief Nate Harper asked: "How much blood has to be spilled in the streets of America before we say enough is enough?" Good question.

After all that's happened, if elected public officials can't take reasonable steps to make life safer for police officers and the people they serve, if they bow their knee to those who insist that the Second Amendment is an absolute right unlike all others, if they echo all the usual bogus rhetoric about "guns don't kill people" -- then all the community's sorrow will have been betrayed as worthless.


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