Rendell prods lawmakers on gun control

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Prodded by the shooting deaths of police officers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Gov. Ed Rendell will ask lawmakers today to enact a series of measures to control gun violence.

The Democratic governor will detail his proposal at a Harrisburg news conference.

Previewing the measures in Pittsburgh yesterday, Mr. Rendell recalled the memorial service last week for the three Pittsburgh police officers gunned down in Stanton Heights. Noting that any number of legislators had attended similar events during years of increasing gun violence, he argued that those lawmakers could pay a more effective tribute to fallen officers by enacting common-sense gun control laws.

"Our police officers in the state are simply outgunned," he said.

Mr. Rendell has advocated gun control measures in Harrisburg in the past with little success. In particular, he has called for a limit of one gun purchase a month to curb the problem of straw dealers who legally purchase guns but then resell them on the black market.

Last year, Rep. David Levdansky was soundly rebuffed on the House floor when he urged the passage of a bill that would have required gun owners to file a report within 72 hours when their weapons were lost or stolen. The measure was aimed at the same straw purchaser phenomenon as the one-gun-a-month proposals advanced by Mr. Rendell.

Nationally, a ban on so-called assault weapons, enacted in 1994, was allowed to expire in 2004. The Democratic majority in Congress has shown no inclination to revive it. On the 2008 campaign trail, President Barack Obama endorsed efforts to reinstate the assault weapons ban and to require background checks for sales at gun shows similar to those required for purchases from gun shops. Since taking office, however, the administration has not pushed gun legislation to the top of its agenda.

"The amount of firepower that the deranged person in Pittsburgh had was stunning," Mr. Rendell said yesterday. "If the AK-47 hadn't jammed, we might have had a lot more dead than just the three officers."

Mr. Rendell wouldn't comment on whether prosecutors should seek the death penalty against Richard Poplawski, the Stanton Heights man arrested after the shooting deaths. He noted, however that, as governor, he must sign a death warrant before any execution can be carried out.

"I would sign that death warrant without a moment's thought," he said of the Pittsburgh case.

Mr. Rendell said that one of the measures he would propose is a restoration of the option for Pennsylvania municipalities to enact their own gun laws -- an option taken away by the Legislature in 1996. Philadelphia, where Mr. Rendell served two terms as mayor, has tried to impose local gun restrictions in the last year, prompted by the shooting deaths of four Philadelphia officers over the past two years. Enforcement of the new Philadelphia laws has been held up by legal challenges based in part on the legislative pre-emption of the local gun law authority.

"If the city of Pittsburgh wanted to take action on gun laws, we should let them," Mr. Rendell said. "What works in Pittsburgh won't necessarily work in McKean County."


Politics Editor James O'Toole can be reached at jotoole@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1562.


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