Gun battle: Pittsburgh now has an important ally at its side
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When you are outgunned in defending uncertain terrain, it's good when friendly reinforcements come to your aid. For the city of Pittsburgh, the guys in the white hats are the attorneys from the Legal Action Project of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence in Washington, D.C.
For daring to try to address the problem of gun violence in the city, Pittsburgh was recently sued by the National Rifle Association. Never mind that the ordinance that brought the city into the NRA's sights does no damage to the constitutional rights of gun owners. It simply requires that the owners report lost or stolen firearms within 24 hours of discovering their loss.
The ordinance is intended to restrict the so-called straw purchases of firearms, which, law-enforcement officials say, is a well-documented way for criminals to get guns. City Council passed the ordinance by a vote of 6-1 and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl allowed it to go into effect without his signature. He believed it was unenforceable and pre-empted by state law -- a view shared by the city law department.
Mayor Ravenstahl, who is sympathetic to the ordinance's purpose, said after the NRA suit was filed that the city would defend its law. But that raised an interesting question. Is it worth spending taxpayer dollars fighting a battle that the ordinance's own defenders feared would most likely be lost? It's fine to be Quixotic but somebody has to pay for the damaged windmills.
The Post-Gazette's answer to that question was "yes" -- as was the response of the ordinance's supporters on council. Yes, it is important to take a stand and send a message to the Legislature that cities like Pittsburgh need their own ways to combat the scourge of gun violence.
That defiant position has suddenly become more reasonable. City Council voted unanimously Wednesday to accept an offer from the Brady Center, with its special expertise on this issue, to provide free legal assistance in defending the ordinance. The only cost to the city will be minimal -- up to $5,000 for expenses. The final vote is likely next Thursday.
Five other municipalities in Pennsylvania have passed lost-or-stolen gun measures. In every sense, Pittsburgh is not alone in this fight.
First Published May 16, 2009 12:00 am