Mayor Nutter's Crackdown on Lost/Stolen Guns Comes Under Heavy Fire

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Mar. 6, 2012

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Everything I believe in is right here,” says Kim Stolfer over lunch at an Olive Garden not far from his home in the outskirts of Pittsburgh. He’s pointing—not to the Kimber Ultra CDP II .45-caliber semi-automatic pistol holstered underneath his navy blazer (though he believes in that, too), but to his bag resting on a chair. It’s stuffed with papers and a laptop containing 40GB of data, studies, books and articles from the decades-long fight over gun rights in Pennsylvania.

“There is no empirical study that shows that any firearm law works to reduce crime,” insists Stolfer, who’s been at the forefront of pro-gun causes in the state for nearly three decades.

He also believes in the Constitution. Stolfer, 57, is a Vietnam vet who served in the Marines. A shooting instructor and recently retired postal worker, Stolfer is chairman of Firearms Owners Against Crime, a nonpartisan, gun-owner-advocating political action committee that a Philadelphia Inquirer columnist once said “makes the NRA look like a pack of liberal bed-wetters.”

“I thought that was pretty accurate,” Stolfer deadpans. On this day, Stolfer’s an amiable guy who hardly comes off like a “gun nut” or “bomb-thrower,” as some of his enemies on the gun-control side have called him. He’s not one of those extremists who wants to eliminate all gun laws—he says he fully supports “about 70 percent” of the gun laws currently on the books in Pennsylvania. And at one point he makes a startling admission that flies in the face of the usual caricature of the gun owner as slobbering worshipper of blue steel and bullets: “I wish guns had never been invented,” he says, “because if there were no guns, there would be no war, and once you’ve been in war ... friends of mine didn’t come home.”

But there are guns, and there’s a Second Amendment, and Stolfer’s dedicated his life to upholding it.

“The Constitution means something to me,” he says. “I swore an oath to defend it, and I will. It’s my duty to protect the rights of all law-abiding gun owners and to ensure they’re not victimized.”

That’s why he took a lead role in drafting House Bill 1523—otherwise known as the “Firearms Preemption Enhancement Bill”—sponsored by Stolfer’s close friend, gun-rights stalwart (and the left’s favorite bogeyman) state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler County).

The bill, co-sponsored by 70 other legislators, was designed to counter local ordinances that have cropped up in Pennsylvania over the past few years that require gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm to the police within a specified time frame or face the possibility of fines and/or jail time. The ordinances were put in place to crack down on straw purchasers—individuals with clean records who legally buy firearms, then illegally sell or hand them over to felons, juveniles or anyone else barred from buying and owning them—who commonly used the simple-yet-effective excuse, “Oh, it was stolen ...” when crime guns are traced back to them in order to evade prosecution.

Philadelphia was the first city to pass such an ordinance when Mayor Nutter signed lost/stolen legislation into law in 2008, providing for a $1,900 fine and up to 90 days in jail for anyone not reporting their firearm missing within 24 hours of discovery. Twenty-nine other cities, including Pittsburgh, Reading and Lancaster, have followed suit, each mandating their own time frames and penalties.

One problem, though: Every one of those laws, arguably, is illegal.

That’s because Pennsylvania has a state firearms pre-emption statute that bars local governments from enacting such ordinances: “No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.”

Approved via a bipartisan 19-4 vote in the House Judiciary Committee last month and up for consideration as soon as next week, HB 1523 would allow an individual to sue any city with a lost/stolen ordinance—even if that person hasn’t actually been prosecuted under the law—and be awarded up to triple-damages plus $5,000 from the city.

The bill would also grant “a membership organization ... that is dedicated in whole or in part to protecting the legal, civil or constitutional rights of its membership”—say, the National Rifle Association, or Stolfer’s political action committee, for instance—the standing to bring similar legal action and receive damages.

Unless, as the bill states, cities with such lost/stolen ordinances rescind them after HB 1523 becomes law.

Gun-control advocates call it blackmail.

Stolfer’s got a different opinion.

“It’s called citizens demanding accountability from the government when they disobey the law,” he says. “It’s not blackmail.”

Essentially, the gunfight shapes up like this: Opponents of HB 1523—including Mayor Nutter and the Philadelphia-based anti-gun-violence organization CeaseFirePA—say the bill threatens lost/stolen laws that have become effective in convicting straw purchasers and getting illegal guns out of the hands of killers, and that the pro-gun side is putting the lives of citizens at risk over paranoid notions that someone is coming to lock them up and take their guns away.

But Stolfer and other proponents of the bill claim that lost/stolen laws do nothing to prevent crime but put law-abiding gun owners in jeopardy of unfair prosecution, and that the ordinances are really just an attempt to advance gun control’s political agenda and chip away at the pre-emption statute. They say the other side’s strategy isn’t to ban guns outright but to make owning one so burdensome and potentially costly that people will decide it’s not worth the trouble—in essence, a backdoor ban.

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Ed said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 04:19AM

“The article states, "If the bill makes it to Gov. Corbett’s desk, no one’s sure if he’ll sign it. Given his pro-gun track record, though, it seems a safe bet. Corbett’s office did not respond to requests for comment."

If you search the web loking for "Attorney General Corbett's Letter to Adams County DA, explaining the illegality of such laws". You will see a letter written by Tom Corbin, written when he's was Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

With Tom's past opinion regarding lost and stolen and other local gun laws, I belive that overnor Corbett would sign this bill ASAP.”

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2. Jim said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 10:05AM

“Ed - you skipped past the part where the former Philly DA said the same thing. And, notice that the politician from Philly (Farnese) admits the ordinances are illegal (if the law penalizes municipalities for illegal gun ordinances, lost/stolen ordinance is repealed, i.e. it is illegal).

If you break the law, even a law with which you don't necessarily agree, you stand the possibility of losing property (pay a fine) or liberty (go to jail) or even your life if it's a serious enough crime. What makes the city of Philadelphia so special that their politicians shouldn't be subjected to the same rules as you and me?”

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3. Robert said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 10:41AM

“Mr. Goldberg,

I want to commend you on a very fair and thought provoking piece of Journalism. It sounds like the police might have something that works and it's just a matter of convincing justifiably wary gun owners. I do not own a gun but like Mr. Stolfer I believe in the 2nd Amendment and most articles I read about guns are full of attacks and name calling from both sides. This article is refreshing and it gives the possibility that the compromise the Mayor is looking for can be reached if both sides try to work together.”

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4. kliffee said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 12:10PM

“Seriously, Mr. Stolfter. Who loses their gun? What, you dropped it on the way to the supermarket? Reporting a missing or stolen gun is right for the safety of society. Only people who own guns illegally would not report a missing/stolen gun. There is no better way possible to deter criminals from getting their hands on guns. And if a person who is selling guns to people they shouldn't and they repeatedly report their guns 'lost' or stolen, then we obviously need to keep an eye on this person.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 04:24PM

“So the City of Philadelphia and its do as I say mayor, who rather than setting an example of lawfullness, pass stunt illegal laws that repulsed even gun-grabber Lynne Abraham, don't arrest and prosecute anyone fearing the stunt will be exposed, and it's all OK, 'cause they said just the right PC words.
Wait till this new law passes; you'll really hear whining.”

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6. louie said... on Mar 8, 2012 at 09:36AM


I suggest you pose your question to the 50 or so Philly PD officers(?) that "claim" to have lost their dept.-issued weapons.

These so-called "law-enforcement professionals" sure have alot of excuses for "stolen" and "lost" weapons.

You want to deter criminals?

How about "Truth In Sentencing," for starters. Take a peek at the lengthy records of the half-dozen thugs that shot down PPD officers over the past several years. Every one of 'em has a record as long as their arm, yet they were parrolled, and allowed to kill Philly Police officers.

What say you, genius?”

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7. kliffee said... on Mar 8, 2012 at 05:33PM

“I'm missing your point, Louie. Police officers should have to report a 'lost' gun, too. These criminals who have a lengthy record shouldn't have been on the streets or with guns. Where did they get their guns? Most definitely from straw purchases. What, you don't think we should be responsible with our guns and report if they are stolen or lost?”

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8. MG said... on Mar 8, 2012 at 09:07PM

“Good article that basically presents both sides of the issue including the general ineffective nature of this current local ordinance on illegal straw purchases, the overly aggressive even paranoid effect by Stolfer to get it off the books (really 1 case justifies his point?), and efforts to try to find some common ground.

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9. Anonymous said... on Mar 9, 2012 at 10:29PM

“There is no gun registration in Pennsylvania which would establish any presumption of gun ownership. And regardless, thanks to the Fifth Amendment, any accused "gun loser" may refuse to answer police questions about the recovered gun.

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10. Anonymous said... on Mar 9, 2012 at 10:38PM

“Cute how you substituted "ineffective" for "illegal."
Are there any other illegal laws you want to defend?

“Good article that basically presents both sides of the issue including the general ineffective nature of this current local ordinance on illegal straw purchases,"”

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11. Anon said... on Mar 12, 2012 at 11:12AM

““I wish guns had never been invented,” he says, “because if there were no guns, there would be no war, and once you’ve been in war ... friends of mine didn’t come home.”

Yes, war is hell, but people have been going to war and killing each other since long before guns were invented. Just sayin'”

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12. Louie said... on Mar 14, 2012 at 11:50AM


What 'Should be,' and 'What is,' are two different things. Please remove your rose-colored glasses.

PPD officers(?) SHOULD patrol the City. They DON'T!

PPD officers(?) SHOULD be PRO-active; they're not. They're RE-active. Well, sometimes.

A convict, convicted of over a dozen violent crimes SHOULD NOT BE PAROLED, but he was. RESULT...One dead PPD officer.

Every PPD officer shot and killed over the past 7 years was gunned down by a violent criminal who has a violent criminal record. How'd they get out of prison?

Philly courts are notorious for plea bargaining with violent criminals, who are responsible for many, many cases of violent crime. This is FACT.

Soft on crime and criminals.

Bore-ass harassment of law-abiding citizens.

And you tell me that Nutter and Ramsey don't have an Anti-Gun agenda?

C'mon, man, wake up!

Look at the Occupy A-holes! Nutter had no problem paying out well over a million dollars to babysit these freaks, instead of hiring more cops.”


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