By David Levdansky
Why in the world would an avid outdoorsman and hunter like me sponsor legislation - to require the reporting of lost and stolen handguns - on what looks like a big-city gun issue? The reason isn't so far-fetched.
Hunting, guns and the outdoors are in my ancestral blood, just as football runs through the veins of other fathers and sons. As a little kid, I eagerly awaited the day I could hunt and trap with my dad and uncles. I owned guns as soon as I was of legal age and love nothing more than still-hunting and stalking in pursuit of white-tailed deer. Now I share the family tradition of hunting with my two teenage sons.
I respect my firearms and take good care of them. But growing up in the turbulent 1960s also taught me about the damage they can inflict in the wrong hands.
President John F. Kennedy was assassinated when I was a third grader. I was devastated. Five years later, I followed the unparalleled social unrest of the 1960s in the newspaper each day. In 1968, the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. shocked black and white Americans alike. Not long after, a handgun-wielding assassin killed Bobby Kennedy, one of the greatest political leaders of the 20th century.
So I spent my youth simultaneously learning to love hunting and watching one national leader after another get gunned down. Both heritages have molded me into a legislator who believes that my Second Amendment right to bear arms also requires individual responsibility in the exercise of that right, including the responsibility to report a lost or stolen handgun.
You'd think the instant background check for gun purchasers proposed by the National Rifle Association would keep more guns away from criminals. But they get around it by using straw purchasers.
The criminal who can't buy a handgun simply approaches someone on the street who has no felony record - maybe a crack addict or a hooker. The criminal gives that person money to buy a handgun for him. Later, if that handgun is recovered during a criminal investigation, the original purchaser simply claims it was stolen. Since no law requires the reporting of stolen handguns, that purchaser can keep selling his guns to shady characters and keep lying about it.
A reporting requirement takes away that alibi and shuts off a source of handguns for criminals.
The NRA opposes this measure, which would allow 72 hours to report a lost or stolen handgun to law enforcement officials, saying it would make criminals out of victims.
But my proposal, which the House defeated, 128-75, would not have affected responsible handgun owners. Homes and vehicles can be burglarized and a handgun stolen. Sometimes, I suppose, someone can lose a gun. The first time that happens is understandable, but two or three times is not a mistake; it points to gun runners and straw purchasers.
My amendment is sensible. If you're a law-abiding handgun owner, why wouldn't you want to report your loss or theft? Who would want his or her handgun in the hands of a criminal or a child who found it?
Hunters would not be affected, because the reporting provisions do not include shotguns and rifles. I have met thousands of gun owners and hunters in my life who support commonsense gun responsibility and safety measures. This is not a threat to the right to bear arms unless, of course, you are a criminal.
I fail to understand the NRA's political opposition. As a hunter, I respect the NRA and the abundance of helpful programs it runs, from providing firearm safety training to teaching schoolchildren through its Eddie Eagle program what to do if they find a gun.
So an organization that teaches and supports gun safety opposes one of the most logical gun-safety measures around. The NRA won't even try to reach a middle ground on the issue. Its "no compromise" political stance is simply contrary to its history of promoting gun-safety programs.
It's time for the NRA to adjust to the real world on this issue. Straw purchases happen all the time. Just look at this fact: Pittsburgh police recovered 968 firearms in 2007. Only 80 of them had been reported stolen, and 70 others were registered to the person who was arrested. That means 818 guns were confiscated from criminals or found tossed somewhere and the original owner never reported them lost or stolen. That's just in one year in Pittsburgh.
Criminals are using handguns all over Pennsylvania, in cities big and small. Between 2005 and 2006, robberies with firearms were up 77 percent in Erie, 57 percent in Allentown, and 36 percent in Williamsport. The Uniform Crime Report detailed a 36 percent increase in homicides by firearm throughout Pennsylvania from 2000 to 2006.
We must take definitive steps to reduce gun violence, and that means reducing the easy availability of handguns for criminals. And while I firmly believe that our Constitution grants me the right to bear arms, I know that with that right comes the duty to exercise that right with individual responsibility.