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Members of the community and local government gathered in the New Hazlett Theater April 16 to discuss what many see as rising incidents of crime as well as strategies to increase public safety.
Held in the wake of several high-profile incidents, members of the Public Safety Committee staked out their views of improving safety and reducing crime – but a significant focus of the event was on an ordinance passed by the City Council in December.
In this meeting, audience members were given the chance to ask a question and to have the panel answer, which resulted in the meeting covering a wide array of topics and beliefs about crime and gun control.
The ordinance, punishable by $500 fines for first offenders and $1,000 fines and possible jail time for second offenders, was meant to combat gun traffickers. The amended ordinance states that “No person who is the owner of a firearm that is lost or stolen shall fail to report the loss or theft to an appropriate local law enforcement official within 24 hours after discovery of the loss or theft.”
A similar law enacted in Philadelphia along with several other gun control laws in the city, are being argued out in court. The judge has temporarily blocked the city from enforcing the laws, and has scheduled arguments for April 28.
Opponents of the ordinance who attended the meeting stated that the new rules conflict with the Pennsylvania State Code, which states that"No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms."
But Councilman Bruce Kraus believes that the city has the right to enforce this legislation because once a gun is stolen, it is no longer lawfully owned, and thus not subject to the protections of section 624.01 in the state code, which limits regulation.
“The debate that has arisen is whether we have the ability to do that,” Kraus said. “I believe we do.” He also said that he was hoping to form a coalition of municipalities that have passed similar laws, and listed Allentown, Reading and Pottsville as other cities that have similar ordinances.
One man, who identified himself as a veteran, said that the people were now fighting aspects of the government and that it was his right to own a gun. He added that sometimes he forgets where it is, and should not be penalized for that. He added that the government wanted to take away guns from its citizens so that the people could not defend themselves in case a foreign government decided to invade.
Kraus responded that responsible gun owners should know where their guns were at all times, especially if their intended purpose was for self-defense or home defense.
“A responsible gun owner knows where his gun is at all times,” he said. “If you wake up to confront someone in your home at three in the morning, they are not going to give you time to look for your gun.”
Seth Collins, said that while the legislation is needed, it would take a more comprehensive approach to deter crime, including wide-ranging youth outreach. He said that by giving youth productive activities and instilling self-worth and discipline, they would be less likely to commit crimes later.
Another participant said that the ordinance was incremental gun control, and called for mandatory sentencing.
Other officials present at the meeting were State Representative Jake Wheatley, a representative from Congressman Mike Doyle’s office, an aide to State Representative Don Walko, Public Safety Director Michael Huss and others.
There might be changes in the state law for gun regulation, however. In Pennsylvania House Bill No. 1044, which has been introduced but yet to be acted upon, municipalities would be allowed to petition for an exemption from state law when certain conditions are met, including if “The regulation is not less restrictive than the provisions of this chapter for such ownership, possession, transfer or transportation” and “demonstrates a compelling reason for the exemption” among other criteria.
Other Public Safety News
Councilwoman Darlene Harris announced that the controlled demolition of condemned houses would be sped up, with 60 homes to be bulldozed by the Bureau of Building Inspection. Harris stated that those 60 vacant structures would be on the Northside.
Harris also stated her support for community watches and block watches, stating that “it takes everyone to be the eyes and ears of the community. We all have to worry about keeping the Northside safe.”