Monday, October 20, 2008

Are We Kidding Ourselves?

We all talk a big game about how to turn Pittsburgh's fortunes around.

Moments after a man with an AK-47 sprayed gunfire down Race Street, killing another man just feet from her front porch steps, Chala Johnson overheard something that still shakes her with fear.

"After the shooting, people were hollering, 'This ain't over,' " Chala, 15, said. "These kids said there was about to be a war on Race Street." (P-G, Sadie Gurman)

Sometimes we talk about reinvigorating Downtown with more rental units and condominiums. Sometimes we talk about developments like restaurants, hotels and office parks, and the jobs they bring.

Sometimes we talk about mass transit. Sometimes we talk about making the city more bike and pedestrian friendly, or greener and more energy efficient.

Sometimes we talk about "school choice" and the Pittsburgh Promise. Sometimes talk about tapping into our universities more efficiently and better leveraging our tech-savvy human capital. Sometimes we talk about political reform.

The two were Pittsburgh's 55th and 56th homicide victims of 2008 -- only one fewer than last year's total, putting the city on pace for the highest number of homicides in a decade.

[UPDATE: This looks to be number 57 already.]

At the same time, police have seen a sharp drop-off in the number of arrests connected to homicides. The Pittsburgh Police Bureau's clearance rate was 46 percent for January to September, down from 75 percent for all of last year. The rate was 96 percent in 2004, when 43 of 45 homicide cases were cleared. (P-G, Jerome L. Sherman)

What sort of suburban or exurban families are going to move to Pittsburgh to take advantage of a scholarship, when headlines like these warn that their children could just as easily not survive through graduation?

What self-respecting leading edge company, in the age of globalization and infinite options, is going to move to a city in which about half of the surface area is regarded as some sort of no-go no man's land?

The city has been engaging in a lot of creative theoretical conversations about "solutions" and "game-changers" that might bring about a much-awaited Pittsburtopia -- but are we all failing to properly address some totally obvious, right-in-front-of-our-noses problems to which we're utterly desensitized -- and for which there are no trendy, easy, or comfortable solutions?

In short: is Pittsburgh actually yet constituted to play the game of a 21st century city, or is it still mired in 18th century problems without quite realizing it?

There is a new policing strategy on the way. That is good, though frankly, at $200,000, we wonder if it is being well-enough resourced. We routinely spend far more money on needs that seem far more trivial.

There is new legislation being proposed that would curtail the sale of black market handguns. We do not pretend there are not some legal question marks around it, but we feel we're at the point where making some noise and rallying to a cause might un-glue more or better state action. It's kitchen sink time, or it should be.

It also feels like there's something we can be doing at a private, citizenship level to help assist with the crisis. If a call to action is forthcoming, we feel about ready to seize upon it.


  1. I think you are right that suburban or esurban families will not want to re-locate to the city, although I have to say that I seriously doubt families with children would locate downtown, that professionals probably have the disposable income to stay in the suburbs and pay to commute, and that professionals would probably not want their kids going to any of the schools on the Pittsburgh Promise list anyway.

    As for companies locating here, companies locate in the DC area, dspite its violence, ditto LA and Chicago. The hot high tech companies companies expect that their employees will live in Cranberry (or Mars) and commute in. Which is where CMU graduates would likely want ot live anyway.

    I absolutely agree that the city (as an administration and as a people) are not dealing with this issue in any substantial way. I still think bace to that Center for Race and Social Problems (or whatever the name is) report that told us (as if we didn't know) that Pittsburgh is more segregated than most cities. I despair of any solution being presented and acted on any time soon.

    I think the new legislation is only questionable legally because Antonin Scalia (sp?) doesn't care about black people (As Kanae put it so eloquently). It is, in fact, only frickin' common sense, and can be crafted to protect legitimate gun owners. But gun owners want it all, and evidently don't care about black people (or at least it will appear that way).

    I am a little wary of what you mean when you say there are things we can do as private citizens.

  2. "I am a little wary of what you mean when you say there are things we can do as private citizens."

    Don't worry, Ed, I'm not talking about vigilanteism. I don't even know what I'm talking about. Just expressing a general sense of feeling like we should be called upon to do something, something other than "go shopping."

  3. There definitely is something public we private citizens can do: contact our city council & give some props to those who support the proposed gun reporting law and call out the 2 who don't, Burgess & Dowd.

    Oh, and include the Mayor in your communiques, he remains quiet during this process. Ask him to publicly support the legislation.
    No doubt there are those waiting for the Mayor to announce his support known so that they can follow suit.

    We, the residents of Pittsburgh, shouldn't have to wait on public support from city government's VIPs on this life or death issue.

    Make some noise.

  4. Luke's headline of getting tough on crime in Homewood, block by block, makes me cry. Crime isn't a block-by-block battle.

    War has a way of traveling, as do the people that make it and the weapons that they carry.

  5. The lost gun reporting law will not prevent crime. It only serves to punish law abiding gun owners.

    Did you know you can legally carry a firearm on your belt with no license or permit? That's pretty cool.

  6. I disagree. I don't know how you can say it punishes gun owners. The gun owners responsibility is to report a lost or stolen gun, once they realize it is missing or stolen. How does that punish gun owners? I will give you an example, my son left his girlfriends home, the home she is renting in a City North Side neighborhood that was being renovated and she lives in a beautiful home. However, since this crime wave has again started, almost every upper middle class person who bought into the "promise" has left the neighborhood due to the violence. They walked outside, and on her front stoop, they found a gun. He immediately called Pittsburgh Police reported this and had the gun picked up by the Police. What if it wasn't my son who found the gun? What if it was someone else? Who's blood would be left behind because of it? Are you kidding? I believe in gun ownership, but responsible gun ownership. I agree with Bram, I feel like, as a city as a concerned citizen, we need to help these communities. We need more than a photo-op walk through. We need ideas and we need action and a city government willing to take the steps, necessary and follow through. I, like Bram, want to help, we need some direction.

  7. as an added note, I refuse to give up on this city. I love this city and with all of it's weaknesses, there are still so many positives that I refuse to accept that we will give it up to the thugs.

  8. I have 71 guns. Do I have to do a daily inventory to comply with the law? I guess I do.

  9. If you have 71 guns, I'd suggest you have a heightened responsibility to ensure that your arsenal is kept secure, and to immediately alert authorities if it becomes compromised.

    I can see how 24 hours can be seen as a little onerous -- I think it'd be reasonable to amend the legislation to 72 hours or even a week. But I'm positive the whole "they just want to harass law-abiding gun owners" line of argument is phony. No one wants to spend precious time and resources harassing good citizens.

    When a gun that was used in a crime is traced to its original owner (too often, a patsy hooked on drugs or deep in debt to criminals themselves) we want law enforcement officials to have an additional investigatory tool -- a tool that they very much desire, up and down the line and across the board -- to trace how that gun wound up in the underground, illegal market. This isn't about some culture war, it's about prosecuting real, professional criminals.

    If the NRA for example is getting itself exercised over this, I would suggest that it has been infiltrated by some bad apples who enjoy cashing in on the lucrative illegal firearm trade. And I'd recommend to good, law-abiding NRA members that they should do what they can to improve their organization from within.

  10. I am only assuming that if you own 71 guns, you would be a responsible gun owner or collector. If you were aware that one is missing, then you would be required to report it. If you were not aware that one was stolen, how could you, under the proposed legislation, be held accountable? But lets make this as ridiculous as possible as you are trying to do. Even the NRA espouses that gun ownership, also be responsible gun ownership. I am assuming you are a responsible gun owner, as am I. Would that be a stretch for me to assume that since you know how many guns you own, that I would not assume you are also a responsible owner and know that one is missing? Or do you leave them all over the place so that anyone could steal one and you would not know? That says more about you, than it does the issue, or the proposed legislation.

  11. I'm not sure how I would be responsible but I would be under this law. There is no distinction for not knowing. If my safe was compromised without my knowledge and a gun was used in a crime without my knowledge I would still be guilty under this law. I would be victimized twice.

    Criminals don't care about gun laws. Why is that so hard for people to understand?

    And how do you determine who the rightful owner of a firearm is? We have no firearm registry in PA.

  12. "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." Doesn't the language state "after discovery" of a loss or theft? If a gun was stolen, and you didn't know it was gone, and didn't discover it was gone until a crime had been commmitted, how could you be held accountable?

  13. I know what it says. But the trick is going to be proving it. Beacuse you know no cop is going to believe you when you say you did not know. They are going write you a ticket and tell you to figure it out in court. And you have to pay for that.

    If the law has this big of a hole in it. Why even bother? For a 500 fine? Give me a break.

  14. So we're gonna let this guy have the last word?

    It's hard to refute, but from what I understand, the cops and the feds would like this leverage of a $500 fine in certain situations to get a leg up on certain types of informants that could bust up major rings. Especially the kind that already have stuff on their record.

  15. I will still give you the last word. But that does not change anything.

    Major rings of what? What's a 500 fine going to do? I can't see that having a really big impact on anything. This is not Law and Order SVU.

    So having your straw purchaser move to Bellevie, McKees Rocks or Monroeville would be that hard? All it takes is a $300/month apartment and you just ran circles around this new City law and your straw purchaser is in the clear. Because then your straw is not a city resident, and not subject to it's laws. But responsible firearm owners can still be victimized by this new law.

    Perhaps solving real crimes would be best?

  16. You seem to know alot about being a straw purchaser. In any event, once fines are imposed, and people start squealing about their supplier, it wouldn't matter what community the stuff came from. If it's an illegal operation, there is no reason why police from all areas cannot share their information. I don't see how this law can hurt a responsible firearm owner, and even if this law results in only one gun off of the streets in Pittsburgh, stops one untimely death of a youngster or innocent bystander, I am of the opinion that every little bit helps. Whatever tool, by way of law or resource, I believe, we, as a city, need to employ to end this madness going on in our streets.

  17. You really don't understand the situation. The fines are not imposed on the carrier of the weapon. They are imposed on the suspected owner. And it DOES matter what community they live in. If I don't live in Pittsburgh I am not subject to their laws and ordinances. So a straw purchaser in Bellview? You can't touch them and they know that. Pittsburgh does not govern me unless I live in the city but they can share information all they want.

    Please explain how this get guns off the street? It does not. Because if you are illegally carrying a firearm you will not get it back anyways. That gun will be "off the street" and I agree.

    I can lend my firearms to anyone that is legally able to carry one. The statement "Once a handgun is separated from its owner, it becomes an illegal weapon," from Mr. Kraus is untrue. I wish these bozo's would learn the laws before they get sued.

    One other thing. If you want to be a straw purchaser in Pittsburgh.... Can't you just call and say you lost your gun and sell it to another party? Yes, you can and be free and clear in the eyes of the law.

    If Pittsburgh wanted to really do something good they would remove the ordinance about open carried firearms from their books since it is unenforceable since preemption came into play. Of course, the City council is dumb, the mayor barely has a pulse and drools out the corner of his mouth for most of the day and they can just raise taxes when they get sued by the people that follow the law.

  18. I understand where the fines are imposed. I don't believe the ordinance is aimed at Joe "Q" public, law abiding gun owner and citizen as you suggest. You give the police, or the courts very little credit in figuring that out, as you said in an earlier post. It is illegal to "pose" or be the straw man, buy a gun because you have a clean background, and then sell it to an individual who does not have the right, via criminal record or illegal status to own it. If, by catching the criminal, getting him to squeal about where he got the gun, and that finger is pointed continually at one or a "few" "law abiding gun purchasers aka straw men, then they (law enforcement)will be able to BUILD a case against the so called "law-abiding" gun owner. If the same law abiding person, continually is identified and that same person has his guns stolen, or continually doesn't know they are missing, well now we can start to say, Walks like a duck, talks like a duck, looks like a duck..well maybe he is the duck and it's time to put him on the dinner table.

  19. Yes, it's already illegal to be a straw buyer.

    So why do we need a new half-assed law that could punish people who have their firearms stolen without their knowledge?

    Any person selling guns as as straw purchaser has a far greater punishment waiting for them- 90 days in jail is chump change. $500 is a joke. You can sell a firearm as a straw man for 300% easily.

    The COP has no business regulating firearms. The state can do that. They are in way over their head. It's best to stick with putting the mayors name on everything and talking about cat licenses.

  20. If you have a better suggestion, or answers to adequately address the problems that are occuring as far as shooting deaths, guns in the hands of criminals and kids, I urge you to put it forward. You are only complaining about the same thing, that is a non-issue. The issue of punishing, law abiding citizens has already been discussed and it is a non issue as far as this citizen is concerned. One person, having a gun stolen or lost one time, even two times over a period of time absent their knowledge, doesn't play out. You have to figure out who the "straw men" are, this proposed legislation allows the possibility of identifying those individuals. Talk is cheap as another person is shot in the head tonight on a street near N. Negley. Still, as far as I know, the Mayor has not weighed in on the proposed legislation nor has the Public Safety Director. I am not sure how high the murder rate has to get before this is addressed.

  21. I do not know the state of extradition between Pittsburgh and Bellevue; I imagine if you have broken the law in Pittsburgh, law enforcement can issue a warrant demanding payment or appearance in court (think parking tickets) anywhere. Correct? I'm fuzzy on that.

    But my point is this. A police officer AND an fbi agent come the door of a suspect.

    "We have you on the Pittsburgh straw purchasing thing, and my info says you're currently on probation for having committed three or four counts of possession and/or prostitution. How about you tell us who you've been selling guns to, how often, for how much, where they live and when they go jogging. If you cooperate, we'll let you off the hook."

  22. But the mayor has weighed in.... Does he sound like a true believer?

    Mayor Luke Ravenstahl believes the ban City Council is considering must apply to all of Allegheny County, and preferably, the entire state, to be effective, said his spokeswoman Joanna Doven.

    "If you have this ban in Pittsburgh, and you don't have it in Whitehall or in Carnegie, then he's not quite sure how it would work," she said.

  23. I do not know the state of extradition between Pittsburgh and Bellevue;
    This is true.

    I imagine if you have broken the law in Pittsburgh, law enforcement can issue a warrant demanding payment or appearance in court (think parking tickets) anywhere.

    Sure, but you did not break the law in Pittsburgh. Because if I live in Bellview I don't have to report firearms that I lose. Are you saying I then have to call Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and any other town with this lost and stolen gun law. What about Hillbilly, WV. Do I have to call them too and report my lost firearm also? Can the tax man come and make me pay 3% wage tax also?

    Correct? I'm fuzzy on that.

    But my point is this. A police officer AND an fbi agent come the door of a suspect.
    Ok, And he says "I lost those guns a long time ago. I live in Belleview. What law did I break in Belleview? None? Ok, so now you know I lost my guns. Take a hike, I have to get to the gun store."

    "We have you on the Pittsburgh straw purchasing thing, and my info says you're currently on probation for having committed three or four counts of possession and/or prostitution. How about you tell us who you've been selling guns to, how often, for how much, where they live and when they go jogging."
    This person WOULD NOT BE BUYING FIREARMS for another person as a prohibited person. If they were on probation they likely would not be able to posses them either.

    "If you cooperate, we'll let you off the hook."
    Perhaps we can get Ice T to do the interrogations. It makes for good TV, you know.

  24. Again, you tout the NRA hardline.
    You have no solutions other than having Pittsburgh become, a visible gun toting community and everyone should have one. That won't stop the kids caught in the crossfire from getting killed, there will just be more bullets flying. This isn't the wild west, where open land and distance are your friend. It's a city where bullets fly and chances are someone, many times an innocent, is in proximity to catching that bullet and then their dead. Watch the news.

  25. When lawful citizens are prevented from owning or carrying firearms what you do is create a gun free crime zone - See Washington DC. If criminals know you can't defend yourself they will rob, kill, invade your home etc. In the back of a criminals mind they always have to think if that person is armed before they jack someone. If they try do do a home invasion are they going to meet a soccer mom with a frying pan, or me who is going to put 30 rounds of 7.62 into them as soon as they step foot in my house? So while you might not admit it, I help out out.

    More firearm regulations will not slow or stop crime. A criminal with a need for a gun will get one. Criminals don't follow the laws. I am very sorry a person you know was hurt. But that does not change the facts. This nation was build on guns, would have been invaded if we were not an armed society and we will likely always have 2nd amendment rights. Please just get used to it.

  26. Anon 11:24: "Ok, And he says "I lost those guns a long time ago. I live in Belleview. What law did I break in Belleview? None? Ok, so now you know I lost my guns. Take a hike, I have to get to the gun store."

    Sure, that works for some routine suspects. Let's say today's suspect is a total crack or meth addict, and/or a prostitute and/or an unwed teenage parent, which many of them will turn out to be. THEN you threaten them with violating their probation.

    "Perhaps we can get Ice T to do the interrogations. It makes for good TV, you know."

    There is a war going on in the streets. It would be nice to have investigations and interrogations involved in it -- in fact, there are, and there has to be. Law and Order is based loosely on real life.

  27. Bram, So your advocate the harassment of people on probation? Would you like to violate their rights also? What you say does not make sense. In your narrow example, just how would that person be violating their probation by breaking no laws? Oh and before you go there, can people on probation buy guns? Can people convicted of crimes that carry a max penalty of greater then 2 years buy guns?

    What "war" is going on in the streets? You live in Pittsburgh, not Compton. Give me a break.

  28. When a hail of gunfire rains on a city block one day, the attackers leave and there are shouts of "This isn't over!" and "We'll be back!", and then there is retaliation visited in that neighborhood in several days -- that is a war in the streets. Many of the endless "isolated" incidents you hear about on television are related.

  29. Bram,
    Amen to that. This situation is as bad as when the "wanta be" gangs hit this city in the late eighties and early nineties. The murder rate statistics prove that. There obviously isn't "one" solution, it may be a patch work of many, but getting back to your original comment, it's time we all take a look at it, and ask ourselves what can we or should we do to help? I am all for that. The misguided attitude or slant is that anyone is asking homeowners to give up their guns, or give up the right to protect themselves in their own homes. That isn't what is being proposed. That is the slant that zealots on the opposing side want everyone to believe. The idea that honest, responsible, law abiding citizens would be threatened by any additional legislation that may help clean up this current situation, is what I am perplexed by? That anyone would oppose it is what I am perplexed by? More importantly, to be so opposed to any tool that may aide in cleaning up the mess, or stopping the violence and no offering of any substitute solution. If any one has a better idea, if any one has some more clear answers bring them forward. NOW! As it stands now, violence is begetting violence. It does not appear to be slowing down.

  30. Ya, what I said....

    Lost-gun ordinances usually fire blanks
    Thursday, October 30, 2008
    By Rich Lord, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

    Lose a gun in Cleveland and fail to report it to police and you could face a $250 fine and 30 days in jail. But in the 12 years that ordinance has been on Cleveland's books, only two people have been taken to court for failing to report a lost or stolen gun.

    That experience, and those of other cities, suggests that Pittsburgh's proposed ordinance on reporting lost or stolen guns and others cropping up all over the state and nation warrant neither the fear they are engendering in foes, nor the hope they inspire in advocates.

  31. What I still didn't hear, was a better solution.