City's plan to ban guns has NRA up in arms
Saturday, August 29, 2009
By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
A weapons plank in a raft of G-20 Summit legislation moving through Pittsburgh City Council drew fire from gun rights advocates yesterday, prompting the National Rifle Association to consider yanking its 2011 annual meeting from the city.
The proposed ordinance would allow police to cite people for carrying a variety of items, from rotten eggs to 37 types of guns, if police perceive an intent to defy their orders.
"They may try to call this some other thing, but by every reasonable account, and reasonable review of what they intend to do, this is a gun ban, plain and simple," said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the NRA.
If it is passed and remains in place, it would "jeopardize" the NRA's plans to hold a conference here April 29 through May 1, 2011, costing the city tens of thousands of visitors, he said.
City Councilman Bruce Kraus, a gun control advocate, said the ordinance may not be enforceable as it's now written, but he's determined to make it so.
Carrying powerful guns "is of genuine concern when you're having a massive protest," as may occur around the summit, he said. He argued that the city isn't trying to ban anything.
"You actually could have those weapons in your possession as long as you were not using those as a way to avoid a lawful dispersal order."
That argument didn't mollify gun rights advocates, who noted that the General Assembly gave the state the sole right to regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns.
"This is the inevitable encroachment of government in areas where they've been proscribed from doing that," said Kim Stolfer, legislative committee chairman for the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League. His group will "entertain the possibility of a federal civil rights action" if the ordinance passes, he said.
The Sportsmen's League fought a 1993 "assault weapons" ban passed by City Council and quashed by the Legislature the year after. His group's lawsuit ended with the city stipulating in 1995 to "abide by and adhere to" the state preemption law.
But the proposed G-20 legislation refers directly to the gun list in the quashed code section. That's part of city officials' effort to grapple with the security challenges inherent in hosting the Sept. 24-25 summit, expected to draw leaders of the world's economic powers -- and many protesters.
Council yesterday voted tentatively to allow $16 million in spending on summit security, to accept $14.3 million in federal and state aid, and to allow the city to enter into agreements with other governments that might provide back-up police.
The budget includes $9.5 million for hiring out-of-town police, $1.7 million for city police overtime, $862,000 for new radios, $350,000 for riot gear and $250,000 for crowd control equipment, among other items.
Council postponed votes on proposals to bar the use of masks, hoods, noxious substances and "contraband" weapons to defeat police efforts, pending a public hearing set for 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday in council chambers.
Council President Doug Shields raised the possibility of adding a "sunset provision" making the rules temporary. But so far, the proposals written by Mayor Luke Ravenstahl's administration don't include an expiration date.
"The fact that they want to leave it open-ended, I think is the most ominous point," said Mr. Arulanandam.
The city may be trying to "bait people" to bring rifles to G-20 protests, said Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of OpenCarry.org, which encourages people to openly carry guns.
He said his group is not telling members to bring guns to G-20 protests.
He called the city plank "nonsensical."
"Assuming the [police] order to disperse is lawful," Mr. Stollenwerk said, "well, then, it doesn't matter if they're carrying a fishing pole. They're still [potentially] guilty of failing to disperse."
Some gun rights advocates pointed out that state law already allows the city to declare an emergency and bar people from carrying guns on public property.
City Assistant Solicitor Yvonne Hilton said the city is only trying to outlaw "the use of the tool to obstruct the passage" of people through public places. "It's all tied to conduct, and not possession."
City officials said that one wouldn't have to commit another crime to run afoul of the proposed rules on possessing guns or other objects, or wearing a mask, with the intent of foiling police. Police Chief Nate Harper said police are trained to evaluate the totality of a situation, and gauge someone's intent.
Mr. Arulanandam said it "doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure this out: Anyone who's intent on conducting any crime at the G-20 summit, or before or after, they are not going to telegraph their intent."
Rich Lord can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1542.
First published on August 29, 2009 at 12:00 am