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Editorial: Handguns

Lost or stolen? Report it

Are Pennsylvania House lawmakers willing to stand tall this week - or will they run for cover, leaving the communities they claim to represent to fend for themselves against the tide of gun violence?

That's the choice faced by legislators in Harrisburg today, when handgun-control advocates begin yet another push for a modest rule requiring the reporting of lost and stolen handguns.

Before Easter, House members got more tangled up than a bunch of Twister contestants by raising one bogus objection after another to the proposal.

One lawmaker, Rep. Bryan Cutler (R., Lancaster), had the audacity to suggest the measure somehow would violate the rights of criminals nabbed with illegal guns. Huh?

Come on gang, this isn't much to ask. The concept is simple and should be noncontroversial: If you own a handgun that's lost or stolen, you're required to report it.

Modest? You bet. This proposal - which brought 10 busloads of Philadelphians to the capital the other week with CeaseFirePA - would help stem the sale of illegal handguns, while not infringing upon anyone's rights.

As reported in The Inquirer last week, Pennsylvania's lax gun laws permit traffickers to supply hundreds of weapons each year to the state's meanest streets, as well as those in New Jersey and other neighboring states.

As Gov. Rendell says, those illegal handguns leave a trail of blood. One such weapon snuffed out a police officer's life in upstate New York in 2006. Rendell is backing the gun-reporting measure, along with police chiefs and law enforcement officials like city District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham. In fact, most Pennsylvanians (read: voters) support tougher handgun laws.

With a new mandate for legal owners to report lost or stolen handguns, police could better crack down on so-called straw buyers, who purchase weapons on behalf of ex-cons. If that happens, then straw buyers would be less willing to sell to the black market out of fear the police would come after them if their handguns turned up in a crime.

The choice for lawmakers comes down to this: Stand up for the majority of citizens and law enforcement, or side with black-market gun dealers.

This really should be an easy vote. But it's not because too many lawmakers quiver when the gun lobby barks. Or writes a check.

Voters should be aware that every House seat is up for election this year.

Likewise, House members should know that voters are growing increasingly angry over deplorable inaction on gun violence. Just ask the pols booted from office after the midnight pay hike debacle.

So, perhaps, the next clean-sweep campaign in Pennsylvania could be aimed at lawmakers who duck as modest gun measures come up and the bullets continue to fly.