Pittsburgh city lawmakers unveil sweeping gun control measures, face pushback over state law conflict

Pittsburgh city lawmakers unveil sweeping gun control measures, face pushback over state law conflict

Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell/Monday, December 17, 2018/Categories: News and Views, Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh city councilmembers, joined by Gov. Tom Wolf and state legislators, announced a package of gun control legislation Friday.

The move comes in the aftermath of the attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in October which left 11 dead and seven injured, while the official announcement was held on the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. Councilman Corey O’Connor (District 4), whose district includes the synagogue, said the tragedy was a call to action to not accept gun violence as the norm. 

“Enough is enough and this has to stop,” O’Connor said. “Today Pittsburgh is going to be a leader in introducing a statewide coalition to fight gun violence and the gun lobby.”

The bills have the unanimous support of council and the backing of Mayor Bill Peduto.

They include a ban on assault weapons and bump stocks, as well as an extreme risk protection bill which allows courts to temporarily bar gun ownership for an individual if law enforcement or family members believe them to be at risk of committing violence.

According to O’Connor, council hopes to pass what he described as “common-sense gun laws” on February 14, to mark a year since the Parkland High School shooting in Florida. They also pointed to a 155 percent increase in people shot in mass shootings between 2009 and 2015. 

“It’s too often that we have these anniversaries and they need to be dealt with,” he said. “We are going to do that at a local level, fighting the state and taking it federally and nationally with the help of our mayor.”

Councilwoman Erika Strassburger (District 8), who shares the Squirrel Hill neighborhood with O’Connor, recalled her own teenage memories of the Columbine massacre and said the lack of action in the twenty years since was shameful. 

“As an elected official my most important duty is to keep my constituents and community safe,” she said. “But when it comes to keeping military-grade weapons off the street, we’ve been blocked at every turn. So we’re here to say no more.”

Under state law, municipalities are forbidden to, “in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components and yet legislators are undeterred.”

Even before the official announcement, guns rights advocates were gearing up to prevent the measure. The National Rifle Association released a statement that lambasted the city for violating state law and costing taxpayers money in inevitable lawsuits.

At a state level, Kim Stolfer, president of statewide gun rights group Firearm Owners Against Crimes, already plans to sue the city and called for criminal charges against Ceasefire PA, a gun violence prevention group.

He said the proposed laws are criminal and that his organization plans to fight this legislation at every turn.  

“[City council] isn’t qualified to decide who exercises their freedom and in what manner,” Stolfer said. 

He accused the city of using the death that resulted from the Tree of Life shooting as a way to push for gun control.

But Pittsburgh could have allies. Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto pointed to cities such as San Francisco, Minneapolis, and Columbus that are passing similar measures to stress the power of municipalities over state or federal authority.

“What is stalled in Washington doesn’t necessarily mean we can’t make it happen at a local level,” he said.

Meanwhile, per nonprofit news website PublicSource, O’Connor sent draft copies of the legislation to 53 smaller state cities to implement if they desired. He did not elaborate on any responses.

November’s results led the lawmakers to feel they had the public support to take up what could end up a costly, time consuming fight. But Peduto still expressed an interest in talking; inviting the NRA to debate with the city and interact with its residents.

“If the NRA would, not hiding on a blog, come in and speak…I’d welcome them to walk the streets of Pittsburgh and hear from real Americans about what it is they want to see done,” he said.

Council will formally introduce the legislation Tuesday.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell a staff writer for The PLS Reporter based in Pittsburgh. Have a question, comment or tip? Email her at atiya@mypls.com.