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Public Hearing Draws Over 100 People To Debate Proposed City Gun Legislation

Ariel Worthy
The City Council set up in the City County Building lobby for public hearing.

Emotions were high at Pittsburgh City Council's Thursday night public hearing on the city's pending gun-control legislation. Over 100 people — including dozens from around the county and even the state — registered to speak in the City-County Building lobby: Officials had moved the location there from council's smaller chambers on the fifth floor.

Several Pittsburgh residents from Squirrel Hill supported the bill, citing the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting as a reason. Richard Ackney, a volunteer with the gun-control advocacy group CeaseFirePA, said gun violence is a human rights issue. 

"We have a human right to live and work in our neighborhoods without fear of gun violence, we have a human right to attend church synagogues and concerts without fear of gun violence," he said. "While common-sense gun laws won't cure our society of this violence, common-sense gun laws can reduce the number of fatalities." 

The city's measures, introduced late last year, effectively ban a range of weapon and ammunition types, as well as firearm accessories. Opponents have said the restrictions are overly broad, and that state law bars local municipalities from passing their own gun laws. Ackney acknowledged the city's ordinances could conflict with state law, but said the city had to act. 

"If those state statutes are a cause of loss of life, they must be challenged. I encourage the city council to do this."

Mark Krchmar from Overbrook said that while he backed sensible gun laws, he thought the city had crossed a line.

"We have countless gun laws that currently restrict certain types of firearms and accessories," he said. "I'm in favor for responsible gun ownership. What I am against is illegal laws that ban any type of firearm or related accessory." 

Krchmar said he has owned firearms for 12 years and a concealed-carry permit for nine years.

"With these proposed illegal gun laws all citizens will face financial burden from the impending lawsuits," Krchmar said. "With the ban of magazine capacity and firearm types, I could be turned into a criminal that is forced to render my property which I think is very unfair."

Other supporters included students from Allderdice High School. Maya Shook,  the co-founder of Students Demand Action For Gun Sense In America at Allderdice, said her support for the bill doesn't stem just from the Tree of Life shooting, or the Parkland, Florida school shooting that left 17 students dead last year.

"Two weeks ago my classmate Jonathan Freeman was shot and killed just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time," Shook said. "I didn't know Jonathan personally but I watched at an assembly held at my school last week as students choked up as they recounted their memories with him. I watched his family suffering unimaginable grief, knowing that as we fall back into our daily routines, their lives will never be the same." 

Josh Guckert, an attorney and secretary of Libertarian Party of Allegheny County, said the city's laws would make it difficult for people of color, women and the LGBTQ community to defend themselves.   

"People of different sexual orientation and gender identities should be permitted to have peace of mind and defend themselves against those who wish to do them harm," he said. He said he was concerned about provisions that would bar people from possessing firearms if police or family members considered them a threat. He said that measure would be "ripe for abuse against the groups I've mentioned and any group that might be disfavored in the future." 

The law was introduced on December 14, the anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The response has been contentious. Earlier this month, gun-rights supporters from Pennsylvania and surrounding states held a protest at the City-County Building.

Councilor Corey O'Connor, who introduced the bill, said the city won't go house-to-house looking for guns, but it remains unclear how officials will enforce the rules should they be passed. District Attorney Steve Zappala has said he believes the rules are unconstitutional, and that gun-rights activists would likely seek to press charges against city officials for trying to pass them. (He did not say how he would react to that demand.)

The bill has been backed by Mayor Bill Peduto: Governor Tom Wolf has also offered its support. But the state legislature, which would have to act to change state law, is controlled by Republicans who have staunchly resisted efforts to restrict gun ownership.

This story was updated on 1/25/19 at 8:45 a.m. to clarify the length of Mark Krchmar's firearm ownership.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., Ariel finally made a “big move” 45 minutes down the interstate to the University of Alabama where she studied Journalism and International Studies. During her time in college she interned with Tuscaloosa News, a daily newspaper in her college town. After college, she got her first job back in her hometown with Birmingham Times, a weekly where she served as reporter and editor. Ariel made an even bigger move to Pittsburgh and joined the 90.5 WESA family as digital producer. She is adjusting to experiencing actual cold weather.