Rendell to plead case for four gun control bills
Governor's lobbying before House panel today called historic
Tuesday, November 20, 2007
By Tom Barnes, Post-Gazette Harrisburg Bureau
HARRISBURG -- Caught in a crossfire between gun owners and gun control
advocates, including Gov. Ed Rendell, the House Judiciary Committee
will vote today on four major bills aimed at reducing the level of
handgun violence in cities and towns across Pennsylvania.
Mr. Rendell, in what is being described as a virtually unprecedented
step, will speak to the Judiciary Committee this morning and urge
legislators to approve the four gun-control measures.
"This is going to be historic," said Rep. Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks,
committee chairman. "In my 31 years in the House I've never known of a
governor testifying before a House committee before they voted."
House Bill 22 would limit a person to buying just one handgun a month,
or 12 per year, a limit that many gun owners and collectors object to;
House Bill 29 would force gun owners to report missing or stolen
firearms to police within 24 hours, or face criminal penalties; House
Bill 18 would give towns the right to enact tougher gun control laws
than the Legislature enacts, something that gun owners say would
create an unenforceable "patchwork" of laws across the state; and
House Bill 2060 would give an automatic 20-year jail sentence to
anyone convicted of shooting at a police officer, even if the shooter
missed his target.
Mr. Rendell, a former mayor of Philadelphia, and other city officials
are upset because a long-time Philadelphia police officer was recently
shot and killed in the line of duty. They say more needs to be done to
get guns out of the hands of criminals.
Mr. Caltagirone said he can't predict whether the first three bills
will get out of committee but he's certain that legislators will send
the one about shooting at police to the full House.
Yesterday, legislators got an earful from both sides of the gun
control issue. A group called CeaseFire PA released a new poll of 600
Pennsylvania voters that showed strong support for stricter laws
regarding handgun safety.
The bill to require gun owners to report lost or stolen handguns to
police was "strongly supported" by 89 percent of those surveyed and
got 96 percent in "total support," with only 3 percent opposed. The
CeaseFire poll, done by a firm called Greenberg Quinlan Rosner
Research, surveyed 100 registered voters in six different counties
from Nov. 2-4.
In Philadelphia, murders have been on the rise in recent years. Four
people died in gun violence over the weekend, putting the total for
the year at more than 300. During a visit to Pittsburgh yesterday, the
governor said enacting the gun control bills is "an uphill fight, but
the polls are overwhelming" in support.
"It's time the Legislature show a little backbone and pass gun
legislation that doesn't affect the lives of ordinary people," he
The bill to limit handgun purchases to one per month got somewhat less
support. Fifty-four percent of the people said they "strongly support"
such a bill, with total support at 70 percent. There were 26 percent
opposed to that idea.
"Good Lord," Mr. Rendell said, "under one gun a month, you as an
ordinary citizen can buy 12 a year. It you're married you can buy 24 a
year. Who would need more handguns?" And it doesn't affect the
purchase of rifles, he added.
Phil Goldsmith, president of CeaseFire PA, said the counties surveyed
were Erie, Lancaster, Montgomery, Berks, Northampton and Lehigh. He
said the pollsters intentionally avoided big cities such as
Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where gun violence is always a problem
and large majorities want stricter measures taken by the Legislature
to get guns off the streets.
Also participating in a telephone interview about the poll were
several mayors, including John Brenner of York, Ed Pawlowski of
Allentown and John Callahan of Bethlehem.
"The people are way ahead of the politicians," said the mayor of York,
which had 15 murders in 2005 and 10 so far this year. "This gun issue
impacts our local communities. None of these bills will have one ounce
of impact on a responsible sportsman."
But Mike Stollenwerk and John Pierce, co-founders of a gun owners
group called OpenCarry.org, which claims to have 3,230 members,
disagreed with the governor and the mayors. In an e-mail yesterday,
they urged legislators to defeat what they called "the gun control
bill triumvirate," bills 18, 22 and 29. They didn't address the bill
about 20 years in jail for shooting at police officers.
House Bill 18, giving local towns the power to enact their own gun
laws, would "provide some politically motivated localities the carte
blanche they seek to target, profile, harass and criminally prosecute
peaceful gun owners," OpenCarry.org said.
It complimented Ohio legislators for getting rid of a law that gave
individual towns the ability to enact their own gun laws. Doing so,
they said, "pre-empted the crazy patchwork of local gun control that
was routinely putting law-abiding peaceful citizens through a
Kafkaesque criminal procedure nightmare."
They criticized the Pennsylvania committee for "inviting anti-gun Gov.
Rendell to intrude upon policy-making in the Capitol." As for the
"Rube Goldberg gun-rationing scheme" to limit purchases to one per
month, they said, "What's next -- letter to the editor rationing?"
Only three states -- California, Maryland and Virginia -- have such a
limit, they said, adding that those states don't have the Pennsylvania
constitutional provision that "citizens' right to bear arms in defense
of themselves shall not be questioned."
Another spokesman for gun owners, Kim Stolfer of the Allegheny County
Sportsmen's League, said the misguided gun proposals are "trying to
make honest gun owners scapegoats."
He said that Baltimore now limits gun sales to one per month "and
their per capita gun-violence rate is higher than Philadelphia's.
South Carolina had such a limit but repealed it because it didn't
work. Criminals only need one gun a month to break the law."
Staff Writer Mark Belko contributed. Harrisburg Bureau Chief Tom
Barnes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 717-787-4254.