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