Rendell says Legislature 'scared to death to buck' NRA

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HARRISBURG -- For eight years, Gov. Ed Rendell has lobbied hard in the halls of the Capitol for what he calls "commonsense" handgun laws.

He wanted to limit sales to individuals to one handgun a month. He wanted owners to report lost or stolen weapons. He wanted to close a loophole in state law that he believes lets criminals use gun permits obtained in other states.

At each turn, the Legislature -- including some of his allies in the Democratic-controlled House -- knocked down the proposals.

On Monday, Mr. Rendell defended his weekend veto of a bill expanding gun owners' self-defense rights, but declared his efforts to reduce gun violence through legislation "an abject failure."

"It's a lost cause in Pennsylvania," Mr. Rendell said in a conference call with reporters. He accused the General Assembly of kowtowing to the National Rifle Association.

"The Legislature proved consistently in my eight years that they are scared to death to buck the NRA," he said. "It's incredibly frustrating, the hold the NRA has over the Legislature. It's embarrassing."

The lame-duck governor spoke even as his Republican successor, Tom Corbett, was signaling he would sign the bill Mr. Rendell had just vetoed.

Mr. Rendell's remarks about the NRA drew a swift rejoinder from the office of Senate Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, R-Delaware.

"I don't agree with the governor's conclusion," said Mr. Pileggi's spokesman, Erik Arneson. He said that NRA members have a right to air their views on legislation, and that lawmakers consider those views just as they do those of other interest groups.

Mr. Pileggi, who represents the crime-plagued city of Chester, broke with Republicans -- and some Democrats -- to support closing the so-called Florida loophole, although the measure failed in a final vote last month.

Unlike some lobbying groups, the NRA wields its power less through campaign donations and more with an energized membership that looks to the group for its endorsements -- and non-endorsements -- and its annual "report card" on whether legislators voted for gun owners' rights.

Rep. Kate Harper, R-Montgomery, in 2007 offered a rare glimpse into some lawmakers' concerns about the NRA. After voting for a one-handgun-a-month proposal in a House committee, Ms. Harper said she feared the gun lobby and its supporters would exact revenge at the polls.

"To the single-issue voters, this is an antigun vote," Ms. Harper said at the time. "I am afraid this will come back to bite me next election season." She was re-elected; the one-gun-a-month proposal never made it out of committee.

Mr. Rendell on Saturday used his veto power to turn back efforts by gun-rights proponents to expand the use of deadly force in self-defense.

He said he supported the so-called castle doctrine as it applied to one's home, but opposed the bill's provisions expanding the doctrine to include vehicles, businesses and "out to the street," where he said it could imperil innocent people.

"We shouldn't have a shoot-first mentality," Mr. Rendell said.

He said he might have considered signing the bill if it had closed the Florida loophole. Mr. Rendell and some law enforcement officials have argued that Pennsylvania's reciprocity with states such as Florida has allowed individuals denied permits here to use permits obtained more easily elsewhere.

He conceded the bill likely would move swiftly through the Legislature when lawmakers returned in January.

Mr. Rendell predicted an easier time for gun-rights activists in the next session, when both the House and Senate will be under Republican control and a more sympathetic governor, Mr. Corbett, will be in office.

For all intents and purposes, it is too late for the Legislature to reconvene and attempt to override Mr. Rendell's veto. But supporters of the castle-doctrine bill say they will push anew for its passage next year.

"I have full confidence we'll pass it next year with a bipartisan overwhelming vote, and Gov. Tom Corbett will sign it," said Rep. Seth Grove, R-York. "You are giving power back to the citizens to defend themselves."

Mr. Corbett would sign the castle-doctrine bill in its current form, said his spokesman, Kevin Harley, who added that Mr. Corbett opposed all the other gun-control measures advocated by Mr. Rendell.



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