Freedomnomics

Article published Friday, February 6, 2015, at Harrisburg Patriot-News.

As a court takes up Harrisburg's gun ordinance, here are some important things to remember: John R. Lott Jr.

By John R. Lott, Jr.

For 40 years, Pennsylvania law was clear: "No county, municipality, or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components."

Many local governments, however, decided that the rules didn't apply to them.

Today, a trial court hears the first case -- a suit against Harrisburg -- regarding this violation of state law.

The case will likely have implications for gun control laws in Philadelphia and the rest of the state and determine whether local governments must follow state laws.

Last year, the state legislature took a leaf out of the Environmental Protection Agency's enforcement book. Just as individuals can sue companies that illegally pollute waterways, Pennsylvanians can now sue local governments for disobeying state laws.

Under Act 192, citizens can challenge a local gun law even if they are not personally affected by it.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, a Democrat, has been extremely selective in choosing which state restrictions to enforce against local governments.

She won't be defending Act 192 in court.

Letting Pennsylvanians sue holds local governments accountable. But isn't challenging local gun regulations different from enforcing EPA regulations? No, both involve people's lives and safety being at stake.

Harrisburg's gun ordinances are pretty typical. They prohibit the firing of "firearms of any kind within the city." There is no exception for self-defense, yet the law has been enforced selectively.

Last October, state Rep. Marty Flynn, D-Lackawanna, was just four blocks from the state Capitol when an armed robber accosted him and state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro, D-Erie.

Fortunately, Flynn was a concealed handgun permit holder. He fired his gun and the robber ran off.

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin worried about the safety of others living in Harrisburg.

"It shouldn't be just an issue because these members had 'Rep.' before their names. It is dangerous for anybody to come into Harrisburg and walk the streets at night," he said.

Harrisburg police Chief Thomas Carter warned Capitol employees and legislators to exercise caution when walking around in the city.

"I don't feel safe walking the streets in Harrisburg," Flynn said after the attack. Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse moved more police to the Capitol's immediate vicinity.

But this meant taking police away from other dangerous parts of the city. And if you're not a state representative, you're likely to get in serious trouble for firing a gun in self-defense.

Harrisburg should ask its police officers what they think about prohibiting permit- holders from firing their guns.

PoliceOne, the nation's largest private organization of police, surveyed its 450,000 members and found that over 91 percent felt that concealed carry laws reduce crime. The National Association of Chiefs of Police got a similar response from its members.

Concealed handgun laws reduce violent crime. This is supported by about two-thirds of peer-reviewed national studies by criminologists and economists.

For murder, rape and robbery, the worst that critics have claimed is that the laws have no effect.

Another Harrisburg ordinance bans guns in parks. Parks that allow concealed handgun permits aren't experiencing any resulting problems.

Does anyone believe that the ban will stop robbers from robbing people? If you lived in a high-crime area, would you put a sign on your house announcing that your home is a gun-free zone?

Gun-free zones don't just attract robbers and rapists. Since at least 1950, all but two of America's mass public shootings have taken place where it is illegal to possess a firearm.

Eighty percent of PoliceOne's members think that allowing citizens to arm themselves will mean fewer deaths from tragedies likes those at Newtown and Aurora.

Harrisburg has no firing ranges, preventing people from learning how to use guns safely.

Firing ranges are restricted to "bona fide educational institutions accredited by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and with the approval of the Mayor or Chief of Police."

No approval means no firing range.

Another Harrisburg ordinance prohibits minors from using BB-guns. Yet another requires that lost or stolen guns be reported. These ordinances are not supported by the evidence.

Getting local governments to obey state laws would be nice, but the real concern is safety. The misguided local laws put citizens' lives at risk.

John R. Lott Jr. is the president of the Crime Prevention Research Center and the author of the recently released “At the Brink: Will Obama Push Us Over the Edge?”

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