AS A DISTRICT attorney for 16 years, I've supported the right to carry a concealed weapon with a permit and the right to use deadly force if necessary to protect one's life or the life of another.
And I've opposed misguided efforts to sue gun manufacturers and to require law-abiding citizens to register their guns with the government. But another fact is that, too often, criminals, mentally disturbed individuals and children come into possession of firearms, with tragic and devastating results.
We can take guns out of the hands of criminals, children and the mentally ill without disarming law-abiding citizens. It's no longer acceptable to fall back on the cliché that we don't have to do anything but enforce existing gun laws. The fact is we do enforce existing laws. Every day across the state, gun laws are enforced by D.A.s and police. But we need to do more - what we're doing isn't working. Every day, more police, children and others are killed or seriously injured by handguns in the hands of criminals, children and the mentally ill.
One of the ways to do this is to require that lost or stolen guns be reported to law enforcement within a reasonable amount of time of learning that a firearm is missing or misplaced.
A stolen or lost gun represents a danger to the community. These guns often end up in the hands of a criminal, a child or mentally ill person with devastating consequences. Law enforcement knows, too, that when a gun used in a crime is successfully traced back to the last person who legally owned it, that person frequently claims that the gun was lost or stolen.
In reality, that person is often a trafficker who sells guns to criminals or other people who can't lawfully own or possess a gun. Since there is no law requiring that a lost or stolen gun be reported, straw purchasers who sell guns illegally go unpunished.
Requiring lost or stolen guns be reported to law enforcement within a reasonable amount of time from having knowledge that a weapon is missing would assure that guns that are truly lost or stolen don't end up in the wrong hands. It also would begin to erode the criminal gun-traffickers' ability to evade detection and prosecution.
The state legislature recently tried but failed to pass such a law. Fortunately, there's another avenue to achieve this result.
Pennsylvania law gives the attorney general the power to adopt consumer-protection regulations that have the "force and effect of law." Pennsylvania law provides that the "Attorney General may adopt, after public hearing, such rules and regulations as may be necessary for the enforcement and administration of the Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law (UTPCPL). Such rules and regulations when promulgated shall have the force and effect of law."
The courts have held that the attorney general has broad power to adopt consumer regulations to protect the public from both unfair and deceptive business practices.
The regulation of firearms as consumer products is consistent with the goals of the consumer-protection statutes. When guns are bought by traffickers for illegal resale, such action is deceptive and engaged in to evade the law.
When these same guns are used in a crime, and traced to their last owner (the gun trafficker), who now claims that his gun was lost or stolen, there is more deception.
It's clear that the attorney general can mandate that lost or stolen guns be reported to law enforcement within a reasonable time of learning about it through his power of issuing regulations. Other state attorneys general have acted successfully in using their regulatory power to address guns.
Such a requirement is not in any manner an infringement on the Second Amendment. It is also not making law-abiding citizens criminals. Every law-abiding citizen gun-owner I know wants to make sure that a lost or stolen gun does not end up in the wrong hands and already reports such matters to the police.
This requirement will only make it uncomfortable for those who sell their guns to criminals and then later claim that the gun was lost or stolen.
The attorney general should immediately begin the process to adopt regulations that would:
* Require retail gun dealers to inform purchasers of a handgun that there is a duty to report to law enforcement knowledge of a lost or stolen handgun within a reasonable amount of time of learning of it.
* Require retail gun dealers to inform purchasers of handguns that the gun cannot be loaned or given to another person or sold to a person not legally allowed to possess a gun.
* Require purchasers of handguns to agree to such requirements upon purchase of a handgun, with penalties for failure to do so. *
Northampton County D.A. John M. Morganelli is the Democratic candidate for state attorney general.