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Pittsburgh council OKs controversial lost-or-stolen gun bill

| Tuesday, Dec. 2, 2008, 12:00 p.m.

Gun owners in Pittsburgh who don't report their gun has been lost or stolen within 24 hours should face stiff fines and possible jail time, City Council members said today with a 6-1 vote in favor of controversial new legislation.

The bill goes to Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, who refused to say if he will use his 10-day window to veto it, sign it or allow it to pass into law.

"My concern is that this legislation ... will send false hope to people in the communities because the reality is the legislation in and of itself at the local level gives us no further ability to get guns off the street without the help of the state," Ravenstahl said.

But Councilwoman Tonya Payne said the legislation will save lives. She said it will allow police to prosecute "straw purchasers" of handguns who pass them on to criminals. She said she knows how guns get into the hands of drug dealers who commit violent crimes in Pittsburgh.

"Oftentimes people ask me, 'How do we get these guns on our street?' 'Where do all these guns come from?'" Payne said. "We have a lot of suburbanites who come into this city, carrying their arms, and they trade them off for these stamp bags of heroin. People, let's call a spade a spade. People don't want to hear the truth. Guns and drugs are related."

Council members Doug Shields, Bill Peduto, Darlene Harris, Patrick Dowd, Bruce Kraus and Payne voted in favor of the bill. Councilman Ricky Burgess cast the lone vote against it. Councilman Jim Motznik was absent .

A half-dozen people voiced their support for the legislation in front of City Council. No one spoke against it.

"Gun violence threatens the fabric of our society," said Susan Nitzberg, president of the Squirrel Hill section of the National Council of Jewish Women. "We need commonsense gun safety measures to keep Pittsburgh families safe."

Burgess voted against the legislation because he said it conflicts with state law, which empowers only the state Legislature to regulate the sale and transfer of guns, not municipalities.

Some of the bill's supporters acknowledged it might be illegal.

"I'm not sure if it's 100-percent legal; I'm not sure that anything really is," Peduto said. "But let's give it a shot."

First-time offenders would face a fine of up to $500. Subsequent offenses would carry a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail.

A similar law passed by Philadelphia City Council drew legal challenges. On Sept. 26, Commonwealth Court ruled that the Legislature has jurisdiction over laws governing the sale or use of guns. Two Philadelphia council members have appealed the ruling to the state Supreme Court.

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