Big bully: Pa. lawmakers cower, as usual, before the NRA

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The pro-gun lobby in Harrisburg, a Goliath against the David of gun-control groups, will become even more powerful if a measure advanced Tuesday by the House Judiciary Committee becomes law.

House Bill 2011 would give the National Rifle Association and other gun-rights organizations a powerful tool for challenging any municipal ordinances that require owners to report lost or stolen firearms. The aim of lost-and-stolen laws is to close a loophole that encourages illegal straw purchases — off-the-books gun sales in which a juvenile or a felon buys a weapon and, if it’s ever recovered by police, the owner of record simply pretends it was lost or stolen.

The NRA is not interested in using lost-and-stolen laws to curb sales to criminals, so it frames proposals such as HB 2011 as an imposition on the rights of legal gun owners.

When the NRA contested Pittsburgh’s ordinance in 2008, it lost because courts ruled the organization lacked legal standing — that is, there was no foundation for claims that it was somehow hurt by the regulation. HB 2011 would change that by giving both Pennsylvania residents and groups to which they belong the authority to challenge local lost-and-stolen laws.

In addition, the groups could go after municipalities for attorney fees and court costs, effectively threatening towns that might be considering such legislation.

The outsize influence of the NRA is apparent in nearly every election for a seat in the state House and Senate, and this measure would extend the reach of gun-rights advocates into municipal races, too. Say goodbye to prospects for enactment of any new lost-and-stolen reporting rules, and say hello to court fights for the 30 towns that already have them on the books.

It’s bad enough that all 15 Republicans on the Judiciary Committee voted to send the measure to the full House, including Brian Ellis of Butler, who made the motion, and Rick Saccone of Elizabeth Township, who seconded it. It was even more disappointing that five of the 10 Democrats on the panel did, too, including Dom Costa of Stanton Heights and Jesse White of Cecil.

Lawmakers should be working to protect Pennsylvanians, not to empower groups bent on serving the interests of gun makers. When HB 2011 reaches the floor, House members should vote no.

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