30 PA Municipalities Have Lost/Stolen Handgun Reporting Laws; None Enforced

Oct 16, 2012

Representatives of anti-violence groups came together in Pittsburgh City Council Chamber Tuesday to discuss gun violence prevention tactics. The consensus: thirty Pennsylvania cities and towns need to start enforcing the laws they've passed to require that owners report the loss or theft of a handgun to police, regardless of their fears of lawsuits.

Wilkinsburg Councilwoman Eve Goodman said she thinks many municipalities are reluctant to start enforcing the laws because the National Rifle Association could sue.

"Somehow, we need to take the power out of the NRA, this multi-million-dollar organization that has been allowed to define the argument," said Goodman. "They keep on arguing that any kind of gun law is a violation of residents' Second Amendment rights."

Pittsburgh passed its own lost and stolen handgun reporting law in December of 2008, but the measure has not been enforced since then. Pittsburgh Police detective Joe Bielevicz said the program could have merits if it were to be enforced.

"Just for example, out of 1,018 guns recovered in 2010, 793 were not reported stolen," said Bielevicz. "Now, a small minority of those were not related to crimes, but the vast majority of those guns were involved in some sort of crime or another."

Bielevicz said the lost and stolen handgun ordinance could help police determine which gun purchasers are legitimate, because so-called "straw buyers" do not usually report handguns as missing before distributing them to potential criminals.

Good Timing

The discussion of gun violence was scheduled months ago by Councilman Bruce Kraus, but it happened to fall just days after a gunman opened fire on three people at a youth football game in East Liberty on Saturday morning. The Tuesday post agenda meeting also came one day before the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime (PIRC) must make an appeal to City Council for continued funding.

Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, the Public Safety Committee Chair, said she's concerned that the city is funding groups that are not yielding real results in reducing gun violence.

"Every time I see another candlelight vigil, every time I see another rally for peace, I'm thinking, 'I wish we'd put all this energy into yielding results,'" said Smith. "I know it's an issue, because people feel like they have to do something, but we're reactionary. I want to know what we're doing preventively, and what we can do to hold these groups [accountable], because there are a lot of groups getting a lot of money."

However, Jay Gilmer of PIRC defended his program, arguing that it's hard to quantify the success of violence prevention initiative.

"You can't record, 'Well, we went out on the streets and we talked to a couple guys. We think we squashed a situation.' Because it wasn't a fatality, we can't take credit that someone didn't die last night," said Gilmer.

Gilmer said PIRC would make a full case for continued city funding before Council on Wednesday.