Visibly moved by the funeral Wednesday for slain Philadelphia Police Officer Chuck Cassidy, Gov. Rendell yesterday called for tougher penalties for shooting at a police officers and pledged to renew his fight for three gun-control laws stalled in the Legislature.
Rendell said that at the funeral he was struck by the prayer from Cassidy's family members for government officials "to continue to strive to ensure a safe, non-violent community for all Philadelphians."
"I thought about that and said, we just can't throw our hands up," a somber Rendell said at a Center City news conference.
Rendell said he has convinced the chairman of the state House Judiciary Committee, Tom Caltagirone, D-Berks, to list three stalled gun-control measures for consideration. Rendell offered to be the first witness before the committee.
The proposed laws would require gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons, limit handgun sales to one per person per month, and enable municipalities to enact their own gun laws.
"We face an uphill battle in the Legislature," Rendell acknowledged, but said he had to try to enact the laws aimed mostly at fighting straw purchasers, who buy guns and resell them to convicted felons or juveniles.
Rendell said that under the law, guns used in crimes are sometimes traced to purchasers who say the weapons were stolen.
Requiring owners to report theft and loss, Rendell said, would eliminate that cover for those who buy guns for criminals.
Rendell was joined yesterday by House Speaker Dennis O'Brien, R-Philadelphia, who had already drafted legislation imposing a 10-year mandatory sentence for shooting at cops.
Rendell proposed raising the sentence to 20 years for anyone who shoots at a police officer, and said he'd raise money for an intensive public information campaign so criminals know the rules have changed.
"We want to get out onto the street a clear message," Rendell said. "Even if you shoot at [a police officer] and miss, you are going to jail for 20 years, no ifs, ands or buts. No guilty pleas can save you, no judge can save you. . . . You do not shoot at police officers."
O'Brien backed the idea, saying, "We ask our men and women in blue to take these risks. When they walk into a Dunkin' Donuts and someone shoots them, it's because they're wearing that uniform. We can't tolerate that in this society."
O'Brien was noncommittal when asked whether he'd also support Rendell's push for gun control, listing several other crime-fighting initiatives he likes but never offering an opinion on Rendell's proposals.
Pennsylvania is a state with a strong hunting culture in which the National Rifle Association works effectively to block new gun laws.
One NRA member, influential Philadelphia Democratic state Sen. Vince Fumo, said through a spokesman yesterday that he'd support Rendell's bills if they reached the Senate.
But O'Brien said it won't be easy to get them through the House.
"That will continue to be a tough sell, as the governor knows," O'Brien said. *