Will state disarm the city on gun law

Posted: February 02, 2012

FOUR YEARS AGO, City Council passed a law requiring gun owners whose firearms were lost or stolen to report the missing weapons to police within 24 hours or face fines of up to $2,000 and 90 days in jail.

The idea was to thwart "straw purchasers," people who buy guns legally and then sell or give them to criminals. Police tracing crime guns often hit a dead-end when their legal owners say that their guns were long-lost or stolen.

Other cities beset by gun violence followed Philly's lead, even though Pennsylvania lawmakers in 2008 rejected a proposal to pass a statewide law to report lost or stolen handguns. Forty-eight municipalities statewide - from sprawling metropolises like Pittsburgh to tiny burgs like Oxford, in Chester County - now have local laws requiring timely reporting of lost or stolen guns or have passed resolutions asking the state to do so.

But now, under a bill that state lawmakers are considering, Philadelphia and its followers could face financial penalties for enacting gun-control measures that supersede state law. The bill, introduced in May by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler, would allow any gun owner challenging the local ordinances to collect attorneys' fees and damages from the city that passed the ordinance.

The bill may come up for discussion and a vote Monday in the House Judiciary Committee. Discussion on the bill was postponed last week, after gun-control activists lobbied to oppose it.

The issue is key in Philadelphia, where Mayor Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey blame gun violence for the city's murder spike - 85 percent of last year's 324 murder victims were shot, and Nutter last week announced $500 rewards to tipsters who out anyone with illegal guns.

This bill sets the stage for a showdown between gun-rights supporters and illegal-gun foes like Nutter and Ramsey, who say that gun control is the city's best hope for reducing violence. The state and city long have wrestled in court over the city's right to enact gun-control laws.

"We're against any measure that would inhibit the city's ability to seek legislative remedies in order to get perpetrators and their illegal guns off the streets of Philadelphia," said Mark McDonald, a Nutter spokesman.

Today, Councilman Kenyatta Johnson plans to introduce a resolution urging the Judiciary Committee to reject the bill.

Max Nacheman, director of CeaseFirePA, called the bill a bullying tactic aimed at reversing the local ordinances and crippling towns from clearing their streets of illegal guns.

"These guns aren't coming off container ports at sea," Nacheman said. "These are guns that were all, at one point or another, bought legally. You can't lose a gun in a couch cushion like you can lose a TV remote."

But supporters say that lost-and-stolen-gun reporting requirements penalize lawful gun owners and do little to affect illegal-gun trafficking.

Further, gun restrictions that vary among municipalities make enforcement impossible, said state Rep. Thomas R. Caltagirone, D-Reading, a bill co-sponsor and minority leader of the Judiciary Committee.

"You can't have a hodgepodge all over the state; it don't work that way," Caltagirone said. "If it's going to be done, it has to be done statewide."

More than 350 firearms have been reported missing in Philly since 2008, when the city enacted its reporting law, police spokesman Lt. Ray Evers said.

Evers could not provide similar data for firearms reported stolen.

- Staff writer Jan Ransom contributed to this report.

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