Tuesday, November 11, 2014
The City of Pittsburgh joined Philadelphia and several other municipalities and state legislators in a lawsuit against the state of Pennsylvania over a law that would give gun-rights groups like the NRA standing to sue over gun laws. The move seems a little strange since the city has doesn't anything to enforce its own gun laws since they were approved more than six years ago.
In many cases the local gun law in question is referred to as a lost and stolen ordinance. The law basically requires gun owners to file a police report when a firearm is, as the law states, lost and stolen. The purpose of the law is to curtail straw purchases — a legal buyer gets the gun and then sells it to someone who can't legally purchase a firearm or want their name attached to the sale.
Pittsburgh enacted its law to much fanfare in 2008 (it took effect in 2009) and the NRA sued to have it wiped off the books. The problem is, the court ruled, is that the group didn't have standing to challenge the law. The law would have to be enforced and then the target of the enforcement could challenge the law's constitutionality.
The problem is, the law in Pittsburgh has never been enforced. In 2010, a year after the measure became law, I wrote a piece about how the law had never been enforced and quite possibly never would be. The city police and the administration of former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl pointed fingers at each other as to why the law had not been enforced. The bill languished.
But then during last year's mayoral election, the bill got a lot of play with Bill Peduto pledging to enforce the law. "My first order of business as Mayor will be to fully implement the Lost and Stolen Handguns legislation I authored and passed through Council," Peduto wrote in a questionnaire seeking the endorsement of the Pittsburgh Black Political Convention.
But to this day, the law has still not been enforced. In May — four months after taking office — Peduto told City Paper's Rebecca Nuttall that he was likely not going to enforce it. "If we try it, we'll be sued, and under present state law, we will probably lose," Peduto said at the time.
That was an about face from comments he made during a January 2013 debate: "If we as a city were to be sued by the NRA for enforcing the lost-and-stolen handgun [law], I'd welcome that lawsuit. Because if it saved one life, it's worth the dollars of hiring a few lawyers in order to fight it."
And now Pittsburgh is involved in a lawsuit to stop challenges to a law that it may never enforce. In a statement, reported by the Post-Gazette and others Peduto said the lawsuit was necessary not only because the legislation was unconstitutional but also because the law was "designed to bully cities like Pittsburgh trying to stop the flow of illegal guns into their neighborhoods. Pittsburgh will not be bullied. We won’t stand idly by when the gun lobby is given special rights over citizens seeing blood running in their streets.”
Exactly. When we stand idly by, apparently, we insist on doing it on our own terms.