Deitch: History says Pittsburgh’s gun control efforts are little more than a photo op

By December 18, 2018 No Comments

“If it’s one thing I know about Pittsburgh politicos, it’s that they are masters of the press conference but a complete disaster when it comes time to put up.”

Bill Peduto addresses the media at a Dec. 3 press conference announcing a slew of new proposed gun-control measures. (Current Photo by Jake Mysliwczyk)

By Charlie Deitch
Pittsburgh Current Editor

This country’s refusal to to put reasonable limits and restraints on gun access, use and ownership is asinine. Kids keep getting killed, adults keep getting killed, synagogues, gay bars and courthouses have all been attacked by hate-mongering cast-offs because it’s too easy to legally get a firearm.

That said, you’d naturally think that I was thrilled when Mayor Bill Peduto, Gov. Tom Wolf and several elected state and city officials gathered outside Pittsburgh City Council to announce the city’s intent to introduce a whole host of laws restricting firearms.

But I wasn’t thrilled. In fact, I’m pretty annoyed by it. Why? I don’t believe these measures are anything more than political grandstanding on a hot-button issue, because the city has been down this road before. And instead of standing to fight the good fight, Peduto and city council slinked away from a battle they once pretended to welcome.

In 2009, Peduto, along with former councilor Doug Shields, was one of the main champions of a law that required gun owners to report to law enforcement if their guns were lost or stolen. The idea of the law is to crackdown on “straw buyers,” people who legally buy guns and sell them to people who can’t. If you don’t report the gun and it’s later used in a crime, you’re on the hook for criminal charges.

The reality is, it’s nearly impossible for municipalities to enact gun control laws without having them overturned. But this law was enacted with city council’s knowledge that they would be sued and they welcomed the challenge. One year after the law was enacted, it had never been enforced under former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl.

The city was sued briefly after the law was enacted but the case was thrown out when a judge ruled that you can’t claim a law is a constitutional violation if it was never enforced. Then when Peduto ran for Mayor in 2013, one of his major campaign points was the enforcement of the lost/stolen ordinance. However, to this day, he’s never enforced it, neither has his police department. In 2014, my friend and colleague Rebecca Addison asked the mayor why he hadn’t enforced the law after making powerful statements like this on the campaign trail:

“My first order of business as Mayor will be to fully implement the Lost and Stolen Handguns legislation I authored and passed through Council.”

Peduto told her: “If we try it, we’ll be sued, and under present state law, we will probably lose.”

It is true that in 2014, the state legislature drafted a law that allowed a group like the NRA to sue city’s like Pittsburgh for enacting local gun laws. But that law was overturned and still to this day, the law has never been enforced.

I’m past the point in my life when I’m impressed by good-intentioned gestures and that’s what last week’s announcement seems like to me. Why should I believe that this time will be different? This announcement and potential new laws, which would ban assault rifles in the city, comes on the heels of the horrible race-fueled massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue in October.

Honestly, I’m all for legislation like this, somebody has to act. But after doing this for more than 25 years, I’ve been to my share of these types of “united we stand” press conferences. What happens is, there will be a big photo op where all of our very real rage is on display. City Council will debate these laws for a couple of months and they will likely pass. That’s the easy part.

Without the proper enforcement, this law will have much bite as a toothless doberman. We have enough of those already and I’m sorry to say that I don’t have much hope that this will be much different. If it’s one thing I know about Pittsburgh politicos, it’s that they are masters of the press conference but a complete disaster when it comes time to put up.

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