A group of speakers panned Pittsburgh’s proposed gun ordinances Tuesday, saying the legislation would do more to increase crime than reduce gun violence in the city.
City Councilwoman Darlene Harris of Spring Hill assembled the panel to offer their opinions on bills that would ban certain semi-automatic rifles, ammunition and accessories from within city limits. Current owners of semi-automatic weapons would be grandfathered under the ordinances, which would impose a civil penalty, such as a fine, for violators.
The group included John Lott of Virginia, an economist and president of the Crime Prevention Research Center; Dr. Charles Gallo, a Monroeville psychologist; Allegheny County Councilman Sam DeMarco of North Fayette; Allegheny County Deputy District Attorney Ronald Wabby; Kim Stolfer, president of Firearm Owners Against Crime; and Walter Gibson of North Versailles, a gun advocate.
“Can you name any place in the world that’s banned guns and seen murder rates go down?” asked Lott, who has conducted extensive research on firearms and crime. “Every single time, where we have data before and after the ban, murder rates have gone up. The point is that gun bans haven’t stopped people from being able to get guns.”
He said crime rates have increased in places that ban guns.
City Councilman Corey O’Connor and Councilwoman Erika Strassburger and Mayor Bill Peduto proposed the Pittsburgh ban following the murder of 11 people at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill by a man armed with an assault rifle and semi-automatic pistols.
Gun advocates have lined up in opposition, saying it would violate state law and the constitutional rights of gun owners. They’ve vowed to sue the city and file criminal charges against council members and Peduto if the legislation passes.
Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., in a January letter to council, warned that municipalities are prohibited by state law from regulating firearms and that officials could be subject to private criminal complaints filed by county residents.
“There have been multiple Commonwealth Court cases from Philadelphia and other parts of the state that have all attempted to pass similar types of legislation, and they’ve all been struck down,” Wabby said. “That is a concern of the District Attorney’s Office in the sense that you may be embarking on a futile attempt to change the law. We want to make sure the city doesn’t embark on something it can’t do.”
Gallo said tragedies like the Tree of Life murders elicit an emotional response, and it typically involves regulating firearms.
“What happens is, these types of laws are generated, basically, in a flood of emotions,” he said. “It goes to an object, and it’s like, if you get rid of this object, everything is going to go away. We have seen that gun laws do not work.”
DeMarco said 127,000 Allegheny County residents have concealed carry permits and he estimated that 400,00 to 500,000 residents own guns. He suggested forming a committee of local experts to examine all aspects of gun violence and suggest ways for addressing the issue.
“We’ve seen through prohibition, through the war on drugs, if somebody wants something, they’re going to get it,” he said. “Criminals are going to get the guns. You can’t take away from the citizens their abilities to be able to defend themselves.”
Council intends to amend the legislation and hopes to vote on it next week, according to O’Connor. Strassburger said people with concealed carry permits would be excluded from the ban under one of the amendments.