Intelligencer Journal-New Era | Editorial | Feb 10, 2012 03:17
Three and one-half years ago, Lancaster City Council passed a common-sense ordinance requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns within three days of discovering the weapon is missing or pay a fine and be subject to jail time.
The ordinance was designed to end what law enforcement officials call "straw purchases," in which eligible gun owners buy guns for felons and others who are disallowed by law to own a firearm.
Today, Lancaster is one of 30 municipalities, including the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Allentown, Easton and York, that have passed ordinances requiring the reporting of lost or stolen weapons within 72 hours of discovering the weapon is missing. An additional 18 municipalities have approved resolutions asking the state Legislature to approve the reporting mandate.
It's a legitimate request designed to protect residents from gun violence.
So how have state lawmakers responded? Using the claim that the ordinance creates a "hodgepodge" of gun laws across the state, they have proposed legislation to punish municipalities that impose a stolen gun reporting mandate.
Under the provisions of House Bill 1523, judges could impose triple damages against a municipality if the court finds the ordinance to be illegal.
Six of Lancaster County's eight state lawmakers — Ryan Aument, John Bear, Tom Creighton, Bryan Cutler, Gordon Denlinger and Dave Hickernell — supported the legislation.
An amendment to the legislation, adopted by the House on Monday, would grant legal standing to "a membership organization ... that is dedicated in whole or part to protecting the legal, civil or constitutional rights of its membership."
It doesn't require a rocket scientist to see the hand of the National Rifle Association behind that paragraph. The NRA was rebuffed a year ago in its attempt to overturn the Pittsburgh reporting ordinance because, the courts ruled, the organization did not have legal standing.
The reporting mandate makes sense: It will eliminate a loophole that straw purchasers use to buy guns for others.
How prevalent are straw purchasers? In March 2010, then-Attorney General Tom Corbett announced that his office and the Philadelphia Gun Violence Task Force had made 424 arrests of straw purchasers and gun traffickers. By last year, that number had climbed to 521.
Said Corbett at the time: "The positive impact this Task Force has had on Philadelphia is undeniable. Not only have these agents made arrests and seized illegal firearms, but have assisted in solving shootings, burglaries, robberies and homicides."
The reporting provision is not onerous. Responsible gun owners acknowledge as much. It places the onus on individual gun owners, not on retailers or licensed gun dealers.
If lawmakers truly want to eliminate this "hodgepodge" of gun laws, all they have to do is pass the statewide reporting ordinance. Then there won't be any question as to how a felon ended up with someone else's gun.