Both sides of the endless tug-of-war over gun rights are watching the U.S. Senate this week to see which way lawmakers will vote on a controversial bill involving concealed carry permits for pistols.
At issue is the "Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act," which would require states to honor permits issued by other states.
The bill, introduced by a South Dakota senator, would affect hundreds of thousands of gun owners in Pennsylvania and across the nation.
In Allegheny County alone, about 50,000 people have carry permits.
The gun lobby, most notably the National Rifle Association, supports the bill, saying it bolsters the rights of law-abiding gun owners by allowing them to carry their weapons across almost all state borders.
But several groups that routinely spar with the NRA, including CeaseFirePA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns, oppose the proposed law because they say it will water down state standards for issuing permits.
A full-page ad sponsored by Mayors Against Illegal Guns in yesterday's editions of the Post-Gazette and the Philadelphia Inquirer called attention to the controversy. The national group urged readers to call Sen. Arlen Specter, D-Pa., who chairs the Senate crime subcommittee set to hear the bill Thursday, and tell him to vote no.
Meanwhile, the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., appeared yesterday to be making an end run around the measure's foes and the subcommittee action by offering his legislation as an amendment to a $680 billion defense bill, further slowing completion of that legislation. A Senate vote was scheduled for tomorrow.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, whose name appeared prominently on the mayors' ad, said he was one of the first to sign onto the Mayors Against Illegal Guns pledge.
"I'm opposed to this proposal because I think it should be up to the municipalities to establish their own gun laws and who can carry a concealed weapon," he said.
He was joined in the ad by 105 other Pennsylvania mayors.
"This [bill] would strip Pennsylvanians of the power to create their own public safety laws," the ad said, "and hand that power to the state with the weakest protections."
Central to that argument is the fact that the states with carry permit laws -- only Wisconsin and Illinois don't have one -- have different standards for awarding them. No state allows felons to have a permit, but other criteria vary.
Pennsylvania, like many other states, prohibits chronic alcohol abusers and people who have committed certain misdemeanor crimes, such as impersonating a police officer, from carrying a gun.
But some other states don't have the same restrictions, so local foes of the bill say it would essentially gut Pennsylvania's law in favor of those states.
But Mr. Thune says he merely wants to protect gun owners' rights with a uniform law akin to a driver's license. Anyone who meets the requirements for a permit in his home state would be allowed to carry a gun in any other state that has a concealed carry law. He also maintains that carry permits reduce violent crime because criminals are wary about targeting someone they know could be armed.
"This is all about standing up for the Second Amendment," said Thune spokesman Kyle Downey.
The bill would essentially make reciprocal agreements between states the law of the land. As it is now, various states have agreements with some states, but not others; South Dakota, for example, has deals with 23 states.
"This would eliminate the need for states to enter into complicated, confusing compacts," Mr. Thune said when he announced the bill.
But opponents maintain that states should not cede that power to the federal government.
"Pennsylvania does not have a reciprocal agreement with Ohio and does have one with West Virginia, but Pennsylvania has the right -- and should retain the right -- to determine which states it will have reciprocity agreements with," said Jana Finder, Western Pennsylvania coordinator for CeaseFirePA.
Torsten Ove can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1510.