Lame Ducks

By Tim Whitaker
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 28, 2007

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Two weeks ago in this space we called on Gov. Rendell to ensure his Philly legacy forevermore and help us solve the gun epidemic haunting our city.

And wouldn't you know, the big guy stepped up and did just that. Big time, too.

Testifying fervently for 40 minutes before the state House judiciary committee in Harrisburg--"I am here today, because, like you, I am tired of the bloodshed"--Rendell laid out the case for laws that would seriously help curb the distribution of illegal guns.

He asked for support for three laws:

The first bill would require gun purchasers to report lost or stolen handguns. (A pro-prosecution initiative, this would cripple straw purchasers who typically plead the handgun in question was stolen.)

The second bill would limit purchases of handguns to one a month. (That would still allow a person a dozen guns a year; a couple, 24. And gun dealers would be exempt.)

The third bill would permit municipalities like Philadelphia to enact their own restrictions on the flow, distribution and use of handguns. (This would allow for more aggressive background checks and waiting periods.)

Hardly forbidding or revolutionary legislation. The laws wouldn't benefit just Philadelphia either. Between 2005 and 2006 gun robberies were up 77 percent in Erie, 57 percent in Allentown, 36 percent in Williamsport, 28 percent in Reading and 12 percent in Pittsburgh's Allegheny County.

Anticipating the lawmakers' biggest objection, Rendell argued the antigun laws already on the books are being vigorously enforced. In Philadelphia, he told the legislators, there are 118 inmates on death row, 52 percent of the state total. Philadelphia has sent more people to death row than have 42 separate states. We need these laws, he argued. They'll help.

You get the picture. This was no squishy freethinking argument from a former big-city mayor. It was a disciplined no-bullshit treatise from a former district attorney.

Didn't matter.

Two of the proposed laws were handily defeated, and the third was tabled.

"What you saw was a number of people who have alternately been brainwashed or threatened into submission," Rendell said afterward, referring to the long black hand of the National Rifle Association.

The Harrisburg politicians did overwhelmingly approve a bill that would create a 20-year mandatory minimum for anyone who fires a weapon at a police officer. That wasn't much of a surprise.

When Temple University President Ann Weaver Hart announced that Mayor Street would teach two undergraduate courses on urban politics and policy next year after he leaves office, you could feel the media smart alecks trembling to get to their keyboards.

Probe-joke alert!

Testy former mayor turned professor!

Tom Ferrick, in the Inquirer, wasted no time having his imaginary Street write in his diary: "I am already at work on my first class: The Saga Begins: In Year One, I rid the city of abandoned cars. The people offer their heartfelt thanks."

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