Antony Davies & James Harrigan: Pittsburgh gun ban just political advertising |
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Antony Davies & James Harrigan: Pittsburgh gun ban just political advertising

Antony Davies and James Harrigan
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signs multiple gun legislation bills during a signing ceremony inside the City-County Building April 9.

Most people know that politicians of all stripes are rarely sincere. Case in point: the Pittsburgh City Council’s recent industrial-strength gun-control nonsense. This law was so tempting to those who posture for a living that even Mayor Bill Peduto and Gov. Tom Wolf had to get in on the act. In the wake of the Tree of Life shooting, who could possibly be against gun control?

Rational people on both sides of the gun debate should be. Gun control measures always infuriate gun owners, but this latest ban should infuriate those on the other side as well. Crafting and passing legislation is costly. This gun ban has sent all kinds of political and financial capital up in smoke.

There’s a political cost in building coalitions, calling in favors and drumming up public support. There is a financial cost, too. Staffers have to be paid to research and draft bills. Lawyers have to be paid to review the drafts. Public relations staff must be paid to prepare statements, and politicians get paid to orchestrate the whole endeavor.

Meanwhile, dollars and hours spent tackling one problem poorly are dollars and hours that could have been spent, but weren’t, solving some other problem well. And when politicians waste our time and money on failed solutions, we all pay the price.

The damnable thing is that everyone involved with this effort knew that it was doomed to fail all along.

In banning certain types of guns and ammunition, what the mayor and council have done is to knowingly write a law that violates both the Pennsylvania and U.S. constitutions. Pennsylvania’s Constitution does not give cities the authority to regulate guns. The Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act specifically prohibits cities from imposing stricter gun controls than those imposed by the state. And that’s just within Pennsylvania. The U.S. Constitution, bolstered by the recent Heller decision, bars cities from doing this sort of thing as well.

Yet even if these insurmountable hurdles weren’t in the way, what effect would Pittsburgh’s ban have anyway? The law doesn’t establish checkpoints at every entry into the city, so if another Tree of Life shooter came along, the law would do precisely nothing to stop him. The only effect would be to provide the district attorney with an additional charge to throw at the shooter after the fact. Given that murder is already illegal, it is hard to see how this new law would have any effect on shooters in the first place.

So why did Peduto and council spend significant political and financial capital to enact a law that they knew violates both the Pennsylvania and U.S. constitutions, and that has no effect whatsoever in preventing another Tree of Life shooting?

They are virtue signaling. This law is one huge taxpayer-funded political advertisement.

Politicians get to pick up votes from citizens who want them to “do something,” yet avoid losing too many votes from the pro-gun crowd by actually doing nothing. Our politicians wasted time, energy and money on a law that will be overturned the minute it gets before a judge because they saw an opportunity to make a statement on the taxpayers’ dime.

They should be ashamed of themselves. But in this state of perpetual election season, shame is always in short supply.

Antony Davies is an associate professor of economics at Duquesne University. James Harrigan teaches in the department of Political Economy and Moral Science at the University of Arizona. They host the weekly podcast Words and Numbers.

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