Rendell urges ban on assault weapons
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HARRISBURG -- Surrounded by Pittsburgh officials such as Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Police Chief Nate Harper, plus a dozen other mayors and state police officers, Gov. Ed Rendell urged Congress yesterday to re-enact a ban on the sale and possession of assault weapons, which criminals sometimes use to kill police.
"How much blood has to be spilled in the streets of America before we say enough is enough?" asked Chief Harper, who said he's still grieving over the killings of three Pittsburgh officers on April 4. "The use of assault weapons isn't for sport. It's only meant for harm."
Mr. Ravenstahl also urged Congress to act on the assault weapons ban, which was enacted in 1994 but expired in 2004.
"We need to make sure our officers are protected," said Mr. Ravenstahl. "We need to re-enact the ban on assault weapons. Our officers are out-armed and that has to change."
The mayor also supported two other gun control measures pushed by Mr. Rendell. He wants the state Legislature to require handgun owners to report to police, within 72 hours, any weapons that are lost or stolen, as a way of reducing "straw purchasers," who sell guns to criminals and report them as lost or stolen.
The governor also wants to permit Pennsylvania cities and towns to enact their own gun control laws. Since 1996 the Legislature has given itself the sole authority to pass laws regarding gun sales and possession.
"Gun laws that are needed in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia may not be appropriate for (rural areas like) McKean County," said Mr. Rendell.
Philadelphia, which has had four police officers shot to death in the past two years, and Pittsburgh have passed some gun restrictions, but enforcement is questionable because the state has authority on such issues.
In December Pittsburgh council approved a bill giving gun owners 24 hours to call police if they notice a weapon is missing. It became law without the mayor's signature. He didn't sign it because he thought it was pre-empted by state law and thus unenforceable.
Mr. Rendell said Democratic U.S. Sen. Diane Feinstein of California is preparing to reintroduce the assault weapons ban, but he admitted that getting gun control laws enacted in Washington and Harrisburg would be difficult because of the political power of the National Rifle Association.
Mr. Rendell urged legislators to talk to police officers, who overwhelmingly want assault weapons taken off the streets, and to listen to polls, which have shown as much as 77 percent of the public agrees.
He said that "if a legislator can't do the right thing he should resign." He said the NRA had opposed him in 2002 and 2006 but he was elected by large margins anyway, so legislators shouldn't fear the organization.
Mr. Rendell didn't tout a bill that would limit gun buyers to just one handgun purchase per month, but said towns could enact such a law if the Legislature allows them.
Gun control advocates face long odds in the Legislature. Two yeas ago, Mr. Rendell testified in favor of the "lost and stolen" bill and the "one handgun a month" bill, but couldn't get them out of the House Judiciary Committee.
Some legislators, from both parties, live in rural areas and small towns where many people are strong supporters of the Second Amendment, which protects the rights of gun owners. In such areas many people are hunters or target shooters and oppose any government efforts to restrict them.
First Published April 16, 2009 12:00 am