South Pittsburgh Reporter - Serving South Pittsburgh Since 1939

By David Assad
Contributing Writer 

Councilman sees new law keeping illegal hand-guns off streets


December 9, 2008

District 3 councilman Bruce Kraus said the recently passed hand-gun ordinance should help get countless illegal firearms off city streets.

Mr. Kraus spoke to a group of residents at the 30th Ward/Knoxville Block Watch meeting Dec. 2 at the Trinity Lutheran Church at the corner of Brownsville Road and Margaret Street.

"We're hoping to curb the onslaught of illegal guns on the streets," Mr. Kraus said.

City Council approved legislation requiring residents to file a lost or stolen firearm report within 24 hours or potentially face a $500 fine for a first offense. And a second offense could not only bring about a $1,000 fine, but also possible jail time.

Mr. Kraus said he believes district magistrate Gene Ricciardi would not be lenient on offenders of this law.

Purchasers, who have no criminal records, frequently buy guns to sell to criminals who could not pass the required background checks. When these guns are used in crimes and traced back to the purchaser who passes the background check, they can simply claim their weapon was lost or stolen. Unless that can be disproved, the straw purchaser is off the hook.

This allows illegal gun traffickers to simply state that a weapon was stolen, according to Mr. Kraus, one of three authors of the bill along with council president Doug Shields and Councilman William Peduto of District 8.

Mr. Kraus said he finds it hard to believe when a registered gun owner claims they did not know their gun was missing when it was found by police to be used in a crime by a person who the firearm is not registered to.

"If I lost a gun, trust me, I would know that it was lost," said Mr. Kraus, noting that it has become a common practice for a person with no criminal record to sell their registered gun to a person with a criminal record who is not permitted to purchase firearms.

Council's vote to approve the measure was 6-1 with only Ricky Burgess voting no. The final vote by council was taken on the day of the Knoxville meeting so Mayor Luke Ravenstahl may veto it this week, or he may not sign the bill and it will become law without his signature. In either case, the ordinance is expected to go into effect because it has enough votes on council to pass regardless of the mayor's veto power.

The possibility also exists that the ordinance could be voided by the state supreme court as being unconstitutional, citing that local municipalities have no legal jurisdiction over gun control.

Councilman Burgess voted against it because he argued t it would be a "false cure" that would be "particularly cruel" to the violence-plagued council district (District 9) he represents that includes eastern neighborhoods such as Homewood.

Council's action has gained support for its action by various individuals victimized by crime as well as anti-gun advocates. These groups have made a statewide push to get local rules for reporting lost and stolen guns since the state House of Representatives rejected a bill last April that would have affected the entire commonwealth.

Philadelphia has sought to enforce similar legislation, but the effort has been tied up in litigation. Other cities and towns throughout eastern Pennsylvania have passed similar legislation, according to Mr. Kraus.

Legally, the question is whether the state ban on local laws on "the transfer, ownership, transportation or possession" of guns extends to the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.

The Commonwealth Court threw out Philadelphia's measure, and other gun control rules there. The matter is heading for the state Supreme Court.

Mr. Kraus said council has been advised by its solicitor that the ordinance is valid because a "loophole" in interpreting the legality of the gun. He believes the city has law enforcement jurisdiction over the legally-obtained guns when they become illegal from being in the possession of criminals.

Mr. Kraus said there were 1730 guns used for crimes last year in the city that were traced back to legally-registered, law-abiding owners.

"And those were only the guns that we found," said Mr. Kraus, who estimates at least 10 times that number were in the hands of criminals in the city least year.

"I never thought our culture would go this way, but it has become a fact of life and we need to find ways to combat this growing problem," Mr. Kraus said.


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