6:29 PM EST, December 10, 2007
Two Lehigh Valley mayors joined with police officers, advocates and politicians from across the state this morning to call on state lawmakers to pass new gun-control legislation that they say is key to stopping the violence on the streets of their communities.
Democrats John Callahan of Bethlehem and Ed Pawlowski of Allentown reiterated arguments that the plague of gun violence in the state's largest cities has crossed municipal borders and infiltrated smaller communities.
"It's an issue affecting all of us," Pawlowski said. "We have to take action and hopefully, the Legislature will pay attention."
This morning's rally in the Capitol's East Rotunda was sponsored by the pro-gun control group CeaseFire PA. The Philadelphia-based organization has been pushing for a trio of bills now before lawmakers. They include legislation imposing a 20-year mandatory sentence on anyone who shoots at a policeman; another requiring someone to report a lost or stolen handgun within 24 hours of its disappearance, and a third limiting Pennsylvanians to one handgun purchase a month.
The rally also comes amid an increased political and legislative focus on gun-control.
Gov. Ed Rendell testified before a House panel last month, where he called on lawmakers to send the bills to the full chamber for a vote. Last week, members of the House's Legislative Black Caucus staged a walkout to call attention to the legislation and to remind their colleagues not to take their votes on other bills for granted.
So far, only the minimum sentence bill has reached the House floor. The other two, along with a bill allowing municipal governments to set their own gun laws, remain stuck in the House Judiciary Committee.
"This is not a black issue. This is not a white issue. This is not a green issue. This is a red issue because blood runs red," said Rep. Thaddeus Kirkland, D-Delaware, the chairman of the House Black Caucus.
Rendell, meanwhile, called on lawmakers to "put their rear-ends on the line," and vote in favor of the bills, as a show of support for police officers who "put their rear-ends on the line every day."
"It's a very simple choice," he said.
Callahan pointed to recent polling data showing overwhelming public support for the legislation. And, like Pawlowski, he stressed that the issue is not one confined to the state's largest cities.
"It's not just Philadelphia. It's not just Pittsburgh. It's Carlisle. It's Pottsville," he said.
Bethlehem Officer Stephen Marks, the first city police officer shot in the line of duty in 40 years, also attended today's rally. He said passing the minimum sentence bill would make people think twice about pulling a gun on an officer.
"People know we're armed," he said. "If they're coming after us, they'll come after anyone."
-- reporting by John L. Micek, Call Harrisburg Bureau
Glad to see that my town's mayor wasn't there.