It has come to this for gun-control advocates in Pennsylvania: introducing nearly hopeless assault weapons ban bills just to get legislators to talk about the issue, and giving the state a symbolic bad grade.
Democratic state Rep. Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill says in the next few weeks he is planning to reintroduce the assault weapons ban that failed last spring. He doubts it will pass.
"We should have a floor debate about gun safety," Frankel says. "Those [representatives] who do not support common-sense gun legislation should have to stand up and say so."
Frankel blames National Rifle Association influence for making gun control more of a hot-button issue than it has been traditionally.
"A lot of gun advocates are single-issue voters," he says. "We are trying to show them that this is not a Second Amendment issue; we are not taking guns from hunters but trying to lessen the number of illegal guns on our streets."
In January, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence and the Million Mom March compiled their annual "report cards" on each state's gun control laws, and Pennsylvania once again received a big, fat D. (There's a large crowd sitting in the back of this particular class -- 30 other states also got Ds or lower.)
According to the groups, Pennsylvania needs to allow individual towns and cities to create their own gun laws, implement a one-handgun-a-month policy for gun buyers and allow police to confiscate firearms immediately from anyone who makes a violent threat. Such laws, they believe, would have prevented some of the 114 gun-related deaths of children and teen-agers in 2002 (the latest figures compiled by the state Department of Health).
Diane Edbril, executive director another state gun-control group, Ceasefire PA, says a one-gun-per-month policy would naturally reduce handgun violence, but it faces a gun lobby "empowered" by the November election.
Barbara Montgomery, president of the state's Million Mom March, blames the lack of gun-control legislation on the NRA and a Republican-controlled state legislature afraid of Pennsylvania's large herd of NASCAR dads. In 2002, a proposal that would have allowed police to seize the guns of anyone who makes a violent threat never made it past the judiciary committee.
Concludes Montgomery: "Everyone in the state legislature is afraid of being labeled anti-gun."