Gov. Wolf: Pa. stand­off shows need for new gun laws

The Morning Call - - STATE NEWS - The Morn­ing Call news staff con­trib­uted to this story.

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf is urg­ing the pas­sage of a law re­quir­ing Penn­syl­va­nia gun own­ers to re­port stolen or lost firearms, sug­gest­ing Tues­day that it could have pre­vented the shooter in last week’s wound­ing of six Philadel­phia po­lice of­fi­cers from get­ting such fire­power.

Such a law is one of a slew of ac­tions Wolf is pur­su­ing ahead of the Leg­is­la­ture’s fall ses­sion, when gun-vi­o­lence preven­tion de­bates could take a prom­i­nent spot.

“We need to re­quire peo­ple to re­port stolen or lost guns so that peo­ple like the shooter in Philadel­phia can’t go out on the street and il­le­gally get a hold of a long gun to shoot in­no­cent peo­ple,” Wolf said Tues­day dur­ing his reg­u­lar ap­pear­ance on KDKAAM ra­dio in Pitts­burgh.

Mau­rice Hill is charged with at­tempted mur­der, as­sault and other counts. He is ac­cused of shoot­ing at of­fi­cers who were serv­ing a drug war­rant last Wed­nes­day and then keep­ing po­lice at bay while he fired from in­side a row house.

The six of­fi­cers were re­leased af­ter be­ing treated at hos­pi­tals.

Au­thor­i­ties have not said how Hill got the semi-au­to­matic ri­fle and hand­gun used in Wed­nes­day’s stand­off, but his long crim­i­nal his­tory should have pre­vented him from legally pos­sess­ing them.

Re­quir­ing peo­ple to re­port lost and stolen guns to po­lice has long been viewed by ad­vo­cates as a way to curb street-level traf­fick­ing of guns for use in crimes.

It could pre­vent some­one from legally buy­ing guns and sim­ply giv­ing them to a vi­o­lent felon who is re­stricted from buy­ing or own­ing firearms, ad­vo­cates say.

A so-called “straw pur­chaser” can sim­ply lie to in­ves­ti­ga­tors that the gun was lost or stolen.

But a law that re­quires swift re­ports of miss­ing firearms could give po­lice more timely in­tel­li­gence about guns that could be used to com­mit crimes and help them de­tect more quickly who is ly­ing, said Shira Good­man, ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of the gun-vi­o­lence preven­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion Cease­FirePA.

Philadel­phia has had such an or­di­nance on the books for a decade, re­quir­ing re­ports within 24 hours af­ter the loss or theft is dis­cov­ered. A first-time vi­o­la­tion is a fine of up to $2,000, and re­peat of­fend­ers can get up to 90 days in jail.

The city’s district at­tor­ney, Larry Kras­ner, an­nounced in Jan­uary that he would be­gin en­forc­ing it, af­ter years of gun rights sup­port­ers work­ing in the courts and Penn­syl­va­nia’s state­house to block it.

They say such re­quire­ments could end up pun­ish­ing oth­er­wise law-abid­ing gun own­ers and that Philadel­phia’s or­di­nance is illegal be­cause Penn­syl­va­nia gen­er­ally bars mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties from en­forc­ing firearms or­di­nances that are stronger than state law.

Al­len­town was one of sev­eral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties to pass a lost-and-stolen gun law in 2008, tak­ing aim at straw pur­chasers. But bow­ing to pres­sure from gun rights groups and hop­ing to avoid a law­suit, the city re­pealed the law in Fe­bru­ary 2015.

Pitts­burgh and Lan­caster have sim­i­lar pro­vi­sions on the books. So do 11 states and Wash­ing­ton, D.C., ac­cord­ing to the Gif­fords Law Cen­ter to Pre­vent Gun Vi­o­lence.

Mass shoot­ings this month in El Paso, Texas, and Day­ton, Ohio, and the stand­off in Philadel­phia are poised to put a wider de­bate over firearms con­trol back in front of a Re­pub­li­can-con­trolled Leg­is­la­ture in Penn­syl­va­nia that is his­tor­i­cally pro­tec­tive of gun rights.

Most Repub­li­cans, and some Democrats, have long been hos­tile to a lost-and-stolen re­port­ing re­quire­ment.

A decade ago, leg­isla­tive ef­forts by then-Gov. Ed Rendell, a Demo­crat, and Philadel­phia law­mak­ers amid a tide of vi­o­lence in the city — in­clud­ing a lost-and-stolen re­port­ing bill — failed re­peat­edly. That prompted Rendell to de­clare gun con­trol a “lost cause” in Penn­syl­va­nia.

Last week, Wolf di­rected the state po­lice and other agen­cies un­der his con­trol to fo­cus greater ef­forts on pre­vent­ing gun vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing form­ing a coun­cil to of­fer pol­icy rec­om­men­da­tions and an of­fice to co­or­di­nate the re­port­ing of lost and stolen guns to po­lice.

Wolf is also urg­ing wider changes in state law, in­clud­ing ex­pand­ing back­ground checks.

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