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Editorial | Legislative Indifference to Gun Violence

Heads in the sand as people die

It's become pretty clear that the Pennsylvania legislature has no shame when it comes to being goaded into action on needed gun-control legislation.

Not even the Oct. 31 murder of Philadelphia police Officer Chuck Cassidy could motivate these politicians - mainly from the suburbs - to limit the number of guns in circulation.

Then, as now, their refrain has been that it's not really guns that are the problem, it's the criminals who use guns illegally.

African American legislators who mostly represent urban areas - where much, but not all, of the state's gun violence is happening - walked off the House floor last week to protest the lack of progress on gun control.

Their demonstration was followed by a rally Monday at the state Capitol during which Gov. Rendell pleaded for Pennsylvania lawmakers "to put your rear end on the line" and vote for more gun control.

Mayors and police from across the state attended the rally, including Philadelphia Officer Richard Decoatsworth, who was shot in the face in September while making a traffic stop. Mothers held up pictures of children lost to gun violence. But the reaction from the do-nothing legislators was much the same.

National Rifle Association lobbyist John Hohenwarter called gun violence a Philadelphia problem, ignoring that Lancaster, Coatesville, Chester and many smaller towns have equal or higher per capita murder rates. In fact, the mayor of bucolic Lancaster missed the gun rally to attend the funeral for a local shopkeeper shot during a robbery.

Hohenwarter said the rally ignored societal problems that produce violence, including impoverished schools and inadequate numbers of police. He's right to say those issues must be addressed. But those solutions don't remove the need to also tackle the proliferation of guns. It's guns that raise homicide rates.

Yet, a modest measure to limit handgun purchases to one per month per person can't even get out of the House Judiciary Committee, which is controlled by Democrats.

Philadelphians should thank two local Republicans who supported the handgun-purchase bill, Rep. Bernard O'Neill of Bucks County and Rep. Kate Harper of Montgomery County. But their votes weren't enough.

Also going nowhere is a bill that would allow local governments to enact gun-control laws. If Philadelphians want to make it more difficult to buy, sell and possess handguns in the city, why shouldn't they be given the power?

Pennsylvania is proud of its tradition as a state where hunting and gun-collecting are celebrated. But the laws being sought to limit handgun sales would not interfere with those activities.

Legislators who won't listen to reason on this issue are acting like blind tools of the NRA, which in its zeal to champion the Second Amendment closes its eyes to the reality that people like Officer Cassidy are dying as a result. Their inaction insults his memory.