Sunday, April 27, 2008

Gun Crazy

By: Mike Mallowe, The Bulletin

Monday morning, the city of Philadelphia is scheduled to return to court before Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan, to try to re-impose gun control laws that the State Supreme Court, the state legislature and the District Attorney, Lynne Abraham, all agree are unenforceable.

The point of law is clear: Local cities and towns are not allowed to impose their own gun control ordinances. Only the state (or commonwealth, in Pennsylvania's case) can do that. This is called the rule of pre-emption. The states pre-emptively withhold certain rights for themselves; two of the most relevant happen to be gun control and traffic enforcement.

"Can you imagine what it would be like to drive a car from neighborhood to neighborhood, or town to town, if each little government could make up its own traffic laws and enforce them?"

That question was posed by a lawyer from Media, S. Scott Shields. He's representing the National Rifle Association in its war against Philadelphia's new gun control laws. And, actually, Mr. Shields, I certainly can imagine what that would be like because I happen to live and drive in Delaware County, where the local police pretty much do that already. It is madness. Allowing each municipality, even one as big and powerful as Philadelphia, to make up its own gun laws would be adding more madness to the existing madness.

Since the lawyers representing the city in this matter on Monday are in the employ of the city solicitor's office, and because they do not work for free, and because lawyers are expensive to hire under any circumstances, it might be perfectly reasonable to ask whether the people's money is being wasted here. There is no point of law to decide. That's been taken care of.

Of course, that question is as loaded, politically and emotionally speaking, as any .45 handgun.

Regardless of your sentiments on the specifics of gun control, this is, separate and apart, a pretty fair question to ask in a city that knows what it's like to have six or more murders over a weekend.

What, exactly, is Mayor Michael Nutter up to when he coaxes City Council into unanimously passing five gun control ordinances that have already failed to gain the necessary support in Harrisburg? Who is fooling whom here? Sure, Mr. Nutter is making his point, but so what? Other people have made the same point, just as effectively, including the governor of Pennsylvania.

The NRA, in the person of their executive vice-president, Wayne La Pierre, recently provided an answer. "They're only engaged in more political theater," he told his faithful followers on the NRA's Web site. Mr. La Pierre then continued, "And while they're play-acting at solving the crime problem [in Philadelphia], your neighborhoods are still at risk."

A sudden flash of inspiration intrudes: What if Wayne La Pierre is right?

That Philadelphia has a gun problem is beyond debate: Too many Philadelphians are using guns to commit crimes, including murder. But what good are let's-pretend laws?

That very question - What happens to new laws that can't be enforced? - was recently put to Philadelphia's police commissioner, Charles Ramsey, in writing, by way of his press office. To date, the commissioner has offered no response, not even a "no comment." That's odd, too, because when Mr. Ramsey came here, as the mayor's most important appointee, his baggage included a reputation for knowing his way around public relations opportunities. Stonewalling is not to be confused with taking advantage of a PR opportunity.

The five ordinances in question are largely familiar re-workings of state legislative proposals that have already been shot down: a limit of one gun purchase per month; no ownership of automatic, or combat weapons; the imposition of arrest or a fine if your gun is stolen and you fail to immediately report it to the police. These are the main points. Limiting gun purchases to one per month is the only proposal that even made it to the voting floor in pro-gun Pennsylvania, where it, too, was promptly defeated.

Wasting time and money in court on Monday will save no lives. And, isn't that the point?

So, really, what is this all about? Mayor Nutter is a very bright man. What's the hidden agenda on this apparent fool's errand in court, and at taxpayer expense? The NRA has already persuaded the judge to issue a restraining order prohibiting the police from arresting anyone based on the new ordinances. Police Commissioner Ramsey has been through all this once before, in Washington D.C., where another local gun control law worked its way right up to the United States Supreme Court.

The clear intent of what Mr. La Pierre is calling "political theatre" is the faint hope that some court, somewhere, will entertain an argument that can lead to the possible invalidation of that rule of pre-emption in which the state keeps the good stuff for itself.

That will not happen on Monday in Judge Cutler's court. You can bet on that. Mayor Nutter knows this. He has promised the city to be all about performance and not just promises. It is never too soon to hold him to this.

Mike Mallowe can be reached at
©The Evening Bulletin 2008


Anonymous said...

I agree with the states rights, but what happens when there is one area of the state in which not a lot of people for other parts of the state agree with? And what recourse is there where those people in other areas don't have the same crime and the same inner city issues?

Bill Shaw said...

Well, I, for one, carry my gun when i go in and out of Philadelphia. I'd do the same in any part of the state where I am unfamiliar with the local "flavor" so to speak.

It is impossible for any person to keep up on every local law, statute, etc. therefore, the state's decision to not allow municipalities to impose separate gun and traffic laws.

If there's someone who doesn't like it, try moving to one of the states where the muni laws do not get trumped by state laws..confusion rules the land and the people suffer.

It works here. Nutter and his ilk know this. They also know that any measure they impose is just another bandaid on the problem. It's not a gun problem, it's a people problem and as soon as the feel good, nanny state pols realize this, the better off we all will be.

Jail the real criminals, don't make criminals out of solid, law abiding citizens. Any dope knows this. Nutter does, too.

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