In its sights: The city must defend its gun law against the NRA

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As badges of honor go, Pittsburgh could do worse than being sued by the National Rifle Association, whose fundamentalist view of Second Amendment rights has confounded sanity in a nation plagued by gun violence.

While a threatening suit from any quarter demands concern, dismay should not be the reaction now that the NRA has sued Pittsburgh over the stolen-gun ordinance that City Council passed last December. This is no surprise. This cold-blooded action is typical of what the NRA does.

When council voted 6-1 to pass the ordinance, it knew that the city law department believed it might not hold up in court. It knew that Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, although sympathetic to the effort, believed it was unenforceable and pre-empted by state law. (The mayor allowed the ordinance to become law without his signature.)

But council went ahead anyway -- because, as the Post-Gazette said at the time, it was important to send a message to members of the Legislature that cities like Pittsburgh needed help to combat gun violence. It also went ahead because its chief sponsors believed that a reasonable legal argument could be made on its behalf.

This view may be optimistic but it is not entirely fanciful. The NRA suit cites state law barring municipalities from regulating the "ownership, possession or transportation of firearms." But as Councilman Bruce Kraus said, the ordinance he sponsored "only requires timely reporting once discovery is made that that firearm is lost or stolen. How does that stop you from possessing a handgun?" Of course it doesn't.

The city ordinance requires only that a gun owner report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours of discovering this. Failure to do so can mean a $500 fine for a first offense and $1,000 for a second.

Having gone this far, the city should give the NRA a fight. If Pittsburgh loses the initial round, that will be the time to decide that an appeal might not be wise, given continuing financial restraints.

For the moment, let the NRA be seen confronting a reasonable piece of legislation targeted at keeping guns out of the hands of criminals through so-called straw purchases. Perhaps state lawmakers can consider the character of an organization prepared to bring such a legal action even as the city still mourns the loss of three police officers to gun violence.


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