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Pittsburgh’s controversial gun legislation passes first hurdle

Used guns for sale. (Julian-G. Albert/Flickr)

Pittsburgh’s controversial gun ban passed its first hurdle Wednesday with a 6-3 preliminary approval vote by City Council.

Council members Darlene Harris, Theresa Kail-Smith and Anthony Coghill voted against the three bills, citing among other things a state law that prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms.

Council is expected to schedule a final vote on all of the bills for Tuesday.

They warned that Pittsburgh would face expensive lawsuits filed by gun rights groups that could drag on for years.

Members who supported the bills said they were willing to accept the potential cost of defending the legislation if it can reduce gun violence that has plagued the city and America.

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“We’re standing up and saying violence must stop, and we are going to provide the resources and capabilities to make that happen,” said Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze, who represents East End neighborhoods where shootings often occur. “We must lead the way.”

Firearms supporters have vowed to sue the city and file private criminal charges against council and Mayor Bill Peduto, alleging a potential violation of the state law.

The legislation consisting of three bills would ban and possession and use of certain semi-automatic weapons, including assault rifles, ammunition and accessories from within city limits. A third bill would permit courts to temporarily remove guns from a person deemed to be a public threat.

Council unanimously approved a companion bill dubbed “Stop the Violence Initiative” that would direct additional funding to city anti-violence programs and create policy for addressing gun violence and police-involved shootings.

Wednesday’s council meeting was sparsely attended, and no one spoke in opposition to the bills.

Tim Stevens, a longtime civil rights activist who chairs the Black Political Empowerment Project, urged council for passage saying assault rifles have caused immeasurable harm in Pittsburgh neighborhoods.

“We obviously want to support any effort that cuts down the presence of guns in our city, our state and our entire nation,” Stevens said. “I applaud what they’re trying to do.”

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Council members Corey O’Connor of Swisshelm Park and Erika Strassburger of Squirrel Hill proposed the legislation following mass murders at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Both represent sections of that neighborhood. Strassburger, who gave birth to her first child on Saturday, voted by telephone.

“I think every council person who sits at this table thinks we need to do something about gun violence,” O’Connor said, thanking the other members, along with council staff, anti-violence organizations, attorneys and the Mayor’s Office for helping craft the legislation. “I think it’s the right fight to have and the right time to have this fight.”

Harris of Spring Hill, Kail-Smith of Westwood and Coghill of Beechview suggested that council could have approved a resolution stating its position on gun violence and asking the state to pass stiffer firearms regulations. Kail-Smith said the bills would disproportionately impact minority neighborhoods where shootings occur.

She noted that council passed an ordinance years ago requiring gun owners to report lost and stolen handguns, but the bill was never enforced because of the state’s preemptive law.

“For me, it’s not that I disagree that we ought to do something with gun violence,” she said. “We’ll never be able to enforce these laws.”

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© 2019 The Tribune-Review (Greensburg, Pa.)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.