After a summer recess, Pittsburgh City Council returned today for it's regular meeting where councilors were met with sobering testimony from one city resident. Ramele Davis, from the Hill District, called on council to stand with her to help stem gun violence in light of the recent shootings that have shaken her and her neighbors.
"I'm getting scared to sleep in my house at night," Davis said.
Davis' testimony launched a conversation about recent shootings locally and nationally. So far this summer, there have been a dozen gun-related homicides in the city.
But it also renewed discussion of an abandoned city ordinance — Pittsburgh's lost and stolen gun legislation. Passed in 2008, the law allows law enforcement to fine gun owners who do not report their firearms lost or stolen.
"We had sometime ago passed the lost and stolen gun legislation," District 1 Councilor Darlene Harris said at the meeting. "I was wondering do you know if that was implemented or not yet. I've had some questions on that."
City Paper raised similar questions in May 2014, a few months into Mayor Peduto's first year in office. Throughout his campaign, Peduto said he would implement the ordinance as soon as he took office, but to date not a single person has been cited. Peduto told us at the time that he had no intention of enforcing the law out of fear of being sued.
Council President Bruce Kraus, said one of the reasons for this is a National Rifle Association-backed statewide bill, that gives gun owners the right to sue municipalities that have passed lost and stolen legislation even if it hadn't been enforced. According to Kraus, the Erie city council also passed similar lost and stolen gun legislation and has since repealed it in fear of being sued under the state law.
"The state wants to limit what we can do locally to protect our citizens," said Kraus who is attending a conference on gun violence in Erie this weekend. "I'm not willing to surrender that. I would argue that one of the many avenues we need to pursue is to hold our state legislature accountable for the decisions they make in Harrisburg."
But that law, Act 192, was struck down in June by the Commonwealth Court who ruled it unconstitutional. Kraus offered to initiate communication with the mayor's office about the status of enforcing the city ordinance. The city was one of 20 municipalities that sued to overturn Act 192, despite never enforcing its law to begin with.
"A 17-year-old kid is afraid to go outside for because the streets are flooded with guns," said Kraus "If we can find a way to keep the gun out of a young person's hand then the shooting can't take place."
An individual cited under the city's lost and stolen ordinance would still be able to sue the city. But despite the certainty of many that the city would be sued, District 8 Councilor Ricky Burgess said Pittsburgh should implement it anyway.
"The day we enforce it is the day we get sued," said Burgess. "I'm at the point where lets make them sue us. People shouldn't be walking down the street with handguns. People shouldn't be walking down the street with AR14s and AK47s. These kids who are doing these crimes are better armed than police officers."