When crime guns are traced, the straw purchasers feign ignorance, claiming they just noticed the weapon was missing. If the legal buyer faced the threat of fines, the logic goes, she might think twice about arming friends who have criminal records.
Furious at lawmakers who killed the lost-and-stolen bill, city officials began taking small steps to protect their own. By 2009, nine cities - including Philadelphia, Lancaster, Reading, Pottsville, and Allentown - passed lost-and-stolen ordinances. To date, 30 brave towns have.
The legislature took notice and vowed revenge. Any day now, the House will vote on a bill granting the NRA the standing to sue towns that pass local gun laws.
So tax dollars are funding legislation seemingly written by, and for, an interest group with the sole goal of launching costly court cases?
Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray has never seen anything quite like it.
"Rather than devoting attention to property taxes or economic problems, the General Assembly is encouraging frivolous lawsuits to promote a political agenda," he said. "They're trying to bludgeon us."
Making cities pay
Pennsylvania gun laws are a sick joke. Any state that happily sells buyers unlimited weapons on demand is a state where politicians fear the wrath of the NRA more than the loss of their own lives.
Every attempt at commonsense legislation dies a bloody death. In 2010, outgoing Gov. Ed Rendell dubbed his eight-year quest to make the state safer "an abject failure, a lost cause."
Legislators want to have it both ways: They refuse to protect citizens, but they'll be damned if they allow cities to do it for them.
Butler County Republican Daryl Metcalfe calls his bill the "Private Firearm Ownership Protection Act," as if he's urging collectors to sign a state registry. If only.
The bill (HB 1523) would penalize any city, suburb, or burg that "illegally adopts a local firearm ordinance." And it grants legal standing to sue to a group "dedicated in whole or in part to protecting the legal, civil or constitutional rights of its membership."
Translation: The NRA, rebuffed until now by Pennsylvania courts.
Metcalfe and his 70 (!) cosponsors want to make recalcitrant communities pay for their crimes by saddling them with legal fees and damages even if towns scrap their laws. (Nine cosponsors represent areas in the crosshairs. Wonder how that's going over at home.)
"The financial effect of this bill could be devastating to local governments," the advocacy group CeaseFirePA wrote in an analysis.
"There is nothing stopping every gun owner in a city from suing the city - each with his or her own attorneys, all running up the legal meter - and cities could have to pay all of these costs."
When guns go missing
Lest anyone think the issue much ado about nothing, I close with this fresh bit of relevancy:
On Tuesday, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence released ATF data showing that Pennsylvania ranks first (worst) in the nation for having the most guns go "missing" from dealers. Between 2008 and 2010, more than 6,000 firearms somehow disappeared from licensed Pennsylvania gun shops.
Missing guns are "virtually untraceable," the Brady Center notes, and are thus "prized by criminals."
No wonder "corrupt gun dealers also attempt to disguise illegal off-the-book sales by claiming" - wait for it - "that the firearms were lost or stolen."
Contact Monica Yant Kinney at 215-854-4670, firstname.lastname@example.org or @myantkinney on Twitter. Read her blog at philly.com/blinq.