Gun backers move to head off controls

Lawmaker responds to call for stricter rules

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Pittsburgh officials begged the state yesterday for stricter gun rules, but instead they saw the political firepower of gun owners aimed at them.

In the wake of the April 4 killings of three police officers in Stanton Heights, City Council unanimously passed a resolution asking the General Assembly to allow municipalities to pass their own gun laws and to join the city in requiring that owners report loss or theft of guns.

Not so fast, said state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, who offered a different idea: legislation to make municipalities pay groups that successfully challenge local gun ordinances in court.

He said his bill is meant to "financially deter and/or punish" municipalities that "blatantly violate" state law. The state code doesn't let localities "regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms."

"This is ludicrous," said city Councilman Bruce Kraus, when informed of Mr. Metcalfe's effort.

"This is just an attempt to bully municipalities into submission."

Last week, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl joined Gov. Ed Rendell in urging Congress to reinstate a lapsed ban on assault weapons and asked the General Assembly to pass a lost-and-stolen gun reporting law and allow local firearms regulation -- just what council sought yesterday.

"I think it's critically important for us to have the ability as local governments to enact local gun ordinances as we see fit," said Mr. Ravenstahl, acknowledging that the General Assembly needs to act first.

"If [Mr. Metcalfe] and the entire General Assembly weren't moved by the events here on April 4, and don't realize that these types of weapons need to be out of the hands of criminals and we need to make sure that local gun laws are put in place, I don't know what will" move them, the mayor said.

Some seemed moved yesterday, but not in the direction city officials wanted.

Hundreds of gun owners filled the Capitol rotunda and hallways for the fourth annual "Right to Keep and Bear Arms" rally. Mr. Metcalfe was joined by Reps. Mike Turzai and Dom Costa, and state Sens. Jane Orie and Kim Ward.

A high-profile list of gun rights officials spoke at the rally, including National Rifle Association President John Sigler.

"Today, Second Amendment freedoms stand in a precarious position," said Mr. Sigler, referring to the right to bear arms.

If different towns across the state have different gun laws, there will be "a patchwork of contradictory laws," he said. "You could end up in jail because of a city ordinance you knew nothing about."

Mr. Metcalfe said gun owners in the state "will never tolerate the enactment of any gun control measure that leaves law-abiding citizens disarmed and defenseless against violent intruders, who in most cases obtain their weapons illegally."

Resistance to gun rules is strongest in rural communities, said Mr. Kraus, who authored the council resolution.

"Then perhaps it is time that we give certain powers to municipalities to enact their own responsible gun ownership rules," he said.

In November, council passed citywide legislation requiring the prompt reporting to police of the loss or theft of handguns. Members argued that "straw purchasers" with clean records were buying guns, selling them to criminals, and then claiming they were lost or stolen whenever the guns were used in crimes and recovered.

Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom Barnes can be reached at or 717-787-4254. Rich Lord can be reached at or 412-263-1542.


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