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NRA appeals Pittsburgh lost, stolen gun statute

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By Bobby Kerlik
Saturday, July 10, 2010

The National Rifle Association reloaded and fired off another attempt Friday to strike down Pittsburgh's lost-or-stolen gun ordinance.

The NRA is appealing a June ruling from state Commonwealth Court that upheld a city ordinance requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to police within 24 hours of discovering they are missing.

The NRA asked for a larger panel of state Commonwealth Court judges to hear the case. A three-judge panel ruled 2-1 against the gun group and four Pittsburgh gun owners.

"I think there are some issues with the majority opinion, and it needs to be reconsidered," said Meghan Jones-Rolla, an attorney for the NRA.

City Councilman Bruce Kraus said he's not surprised the association is appealing. He said the ordinance helps curb straw purchases.

"It's the NRA. They're going to have their position," Kraus said. "If you can eliminate straw-purchase handguns, you can keep handguns out of the hands of (criminals)."

Straw purchases involve people with clean criminal records who buy weapons and give them to criminals. The purchasers claim the weapon was stolen or lost if it later is used in a crime.

The latest court ruling upheld a decision by Allegheny County Common Pleas Senior Judge R. Stanton Wettick, who dismissed the NRA's challenge, ruling it lacked legal standing to bring the challenge in April 2009 because the ordinance had not affected the organization or the other four plaintiffs.

Commonwealth Court last year dismissed the challenge to an almost identical lost-and-stolen-gun ordinance in Philadelphia.

"If the NRA is appealing to the full Commonwealth Court, we expect them to lose there just like they've lost five other times in courts across Pennsylvania," said Daniel Vice, senior attorney for the Washington-based Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which represented the city.

Jones-Rolla said the previous decisions are unfair because they require that in order to challenge the ordinance, a person must risk criminal sanctions by disregarding the law.

"Why should you have to waive your right to self-incrimination to get standing?" she asked.

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