Philly gun control activists demand passage of "lost-or-stolen" gun legislation

(Amber Ross/Yakima Police Department via AP)

There’s no doubt that violent crime in Philadelphia is getting worse. The real question is what to do about it, and this week gun control activists from the City of Brotherly Love made the trek to the state capitol in Harrisburg to call on the Republican-controlled legislature to immediately pass a measure that’s aimed at legal gun owners who’ve been the victim of a burglary or theft.

The gun control group Ceasefire PA says that passage of two bills mandating gun owners report the theft or loss of a firearm to police within 48 hours or face a citation would somehow stop criminals from illegally obtaining and using firearms, but one Second Amendment advocate is delivering a reality check to the anti-gun group.

However, that law would victimize gun owners twice, according to Val Finnell, the director of Gun Owners of America, which he called a non-partisan organization — once, when the gun is stolen, and a second time by the state if they do not report it.

“It is really not effective,” Finnell said. “The issue is not in the reporting of the lost or stolen firearm. It is in the recovery. [Police] wait for them to turn up later in the crime. It is really not effective,” Finnell said.

Finnell is right that police don’t exactly put out an all points bulletin on every burglary. Heck, in some large cities police don’t even respond in person to burglary calls, whether or not a gun was taken. It’s ludicrous to believe that a) most gun owners aren’t reporting gun thefts to authorities in the first place and b) criminals will somehow be affected by a law requiring legal gun owners to report thefts to police.

“Enough is enough,” said Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams, who lost her granddaughter, Tiana, eight years ago to gun violence. “She will not be a woman. Not be a mother. Not be a wife. She was taken from us.”

Williams said 54 people have been taken from Harrisburg by gun violence since October of 2018.

“When a lawful gun is taken from the hands of a lawful gun owner, there is no telling where it will end up,” Williams said. “This is common sense legislation that every gun owner can agree with.”

Added Rep. Joanna McClinton, a Democrat from Delaware County: “We are not doing enough to keep the guns out of the wrong hands. Action has to happen. We cannot just say ‘thoughts and prayers’.”

You can’t just say “we need another law” either, especially one that’s aimed at criminalizing the victims of crime and not the perpetrators.

Sadly, the “lost-or-stolen” legislation isn’t the only bad idea being pushed by Ceasefire PA. The group was also stumping for passage of a “red flag” gun seizure law that would allow authorities to “temporarily” take guns away from legal gun owners deemed by a judge to pose a danger to themselves or others. As GOA’s Finnell says, the idea has several fundamental flaws.

“It turns due process on its head,” Finnell said.

The efficiency of such a law would only result in guns being taken away from people who are in crisis, but would not address the people in crisis themselves.

“We have a Section 302 involuntary commitment process, and laws against terroristic threats and stalking. If someone makes a terroristic threat, you don’t make a red flag report. You need to arrest them,” Finnell said. “If someone is truly suicidal or homicidal, or mentally unstable, they should be committed because they are a danger to themselves or others regardless of if their firearms are seized or not. That’s the issue.”

Yes, but commitments are expensive. Red flag laws are a relatively cheap way for politicians to claim they’re “doing something” about violent crime, even if the supposedly dangerous person is still free to roam about the state with knives, matches, gasoline, or even illegally-obtained firearms.

For the moment, these proposals are going nowhere, but that could change if Democrats are able to wrest control of the state legislature from Republicans this fall. That seems increasingly unlikely given the trend in national politics, but I hope that Pennsylvania gun owners don’t get too complacent between now and November, or else these bad bills could become terrible laws in the next legislative session.