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Pittsburgh gun safety proposal would ban semiautomatic rifles

Bob Bauder
| Friday, Dec. 14, 2018, 11:33 a.m.
Mayor Bill Peduto speaks at a press conference announcing a package of gun safety measures that will be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday at the City-County Building on Dec. 14, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Mayor Bill Peduto speaks at a press conference announcing a package of gun safety measures that will be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday at the City-County Building on Dec. 14, 2018.
Mayor Bill Peduto speaks at a press conference announcing a package of gun safety measures that will be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday at the City-County Building on Dec. 14, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Mayor Bill Peduto speaks at a press conference announcing a package of gun safety measures that will be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday at the City-County Building on Dec. 14, 2018.
Mayor Bill Peduto speaks at a press conference announcing a package of gun safety measures that will be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday at the City-County Building on Dec. 14, 2018.
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Mayor Bill Peduto speaks at a press conference announcing a package of gun safety measures that will be introduced to Pittsburgh City Council Tuesday at the City-County Building on Dec. 14, 2018.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was joined by Gov. Tom Wolf, members of City Council and state Democratic lawmakers Friday in proposing legislation that would ban semiautomatic rifles and certain ammunition and firearms accessories within city limits.

Citing the 11 people killed in the Oct. 27 mass shooting at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue, Peduto said the ban is necessary to protect the safety and welfare of Pittsburgh residents. He vowed to build a coalition among municipalities and residents across the nation to fend off legal challenges from gun rights activists that are certain to come. Peduto said he’s written letters to more than 100 cities seeking support.

“We intend to work not only in this council chamber but across the state of Pennsylvania in council chambers, in every town and village across this state, to get the support that is needed to change the laws in Harrisburg, but we won’t stop there,” Peduto said. “We’ll work in city halls across the United States, one by one, going to the places where they have not only been the victims of mass homicide, but have been the victims of homicides on a continual basis.”

Kim Stolfer, president of the statewide group Firearm Owners Against Crime, cited a state law prohibiting counties and municipalities from regulating “the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited” in Pennsylvania.

Stolfer said the group would sue the city if it enacts the bills.

“What the city is doing is criminal,” he said. “There’s going to be more than one lawsuit. We’re also going to be pursuing criminal charges against the mayor and council for intentionally violating the law.”

Wolf, along with Democratic state Sens. Jay Costa of Forest Hills, Wayne Fontana of Brookline and state Rep. Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill vowed to support legislation proposed by Frankel that would abolish the the law cited by Stolfer. Pittsburgh for more than a decade has been prevented from enforcing an ordinance requiring the reporting of lost or stolen handguns because of the preemption.

They admitted it would be an uphill fight in Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature, which has stymied efforts by Democrats to enact stiffer gun laws, but noted GOP lawmakers in October supported passage of the first firearms regulation in more than a decade. The law requires domestic abusers to turn in guns within 24 hours of a conviction.

The key, they said, was to convince Republicans that citizens want change in the wake of mass shootings across the country.

“We have a governor here that’s supporting us,” Fontana said. “If we can get the majority party to understand that their constituents also are concerned, that’s our job. We have to make them understand that. If we do, then we feel like we can maybe get something done, but it’s going to be a fight, and it’s not going to be easy.”

Legislation proposed in Pittsburgh would ban the manufacture, sale, purchase, transportation, carry, storage or possession of assault weapons within the city. A second bill would ban certain ammunition for semiautomatic rifles, including explosive and armor piercing bullets. It would ban accessories, including large magazines and bump stocks that allow rapid fire similar to automatic weapons.

A third bill would permit courts to temporarily prohibit a person deemed at risk by police or family members from possessing a gun.

The bills would exempt law enforcement officers and people who carry guns for an official duty, museums and guns used as theater or film props.

Among the speakers Friday were Josh Fidel and Cody Murphy, two seniors at Taylor Allderdice High School in Squirrel Hill, who said the Tree of Life massacre and other mass shootings have created a culture of fear among young people.

“Now I have the constant fear of being attacked in the back of my mind, a feeling that no person should ever feel,” said Fidel, 17, who is Jewish. “We cannot just stand idly by and continue to be bystanders as more and more Americans die to guns held by the hands of hate. It is time for us to stop these massacres from happening in our communities. We need common-sense gun laws now.”

The bills’ cosponsors, Councilman Corey O’Connor of Swisshelm Park and Councilwoman Erika Strassburger of Squirrel Hill, plan to introduce the legislation during a council meeting Tuesday. O’Connor said council intends to hold community meetings and a public hearing on the legislation, and a vote could happen in February.

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, bbauder@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.

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