Sometimes outsiders come in. Sometimes a Quixotic charge topples a windmill. A reminder of that came this week when Pittsburgh's lost-or-stolen gun law survived a challenge from the National Rifle Association.
What a pleasant outcome -- in part because it was a bit unexpected -- but don't pop the champagne just yet. To get this gun law out of the clutches of the NRA, someone will have to pry it from its cold, dead fingers.
This story began last December when, frustrated by local gun violence, Pittsburgh City Council voted 6-1 to pass a requirement that gun owners report a lost or stolen firearm within 24 hours of discovering it was gone.
The aim was to curtail a practice that law enforcement has identified as a major source of guns for criminals -- so-called straw purchases, whereby shady gun traffickers sell their weapons to hoodlums and then, when firearms are traced back to the sellers after a crime, claim that they were stolen. With reporting gun losses made mandatory, the hope was that this lame excuse wouldn't fly anymore.
The ordinance didn't infringe on responsible gun owners, but the problem was that Pennsylvania law reserves for itself the right to regulate guns in this state. Even some of the supporters of the ordinance -- including the Post-Gazette -- wondered whether it would pass legal scrutiny. The city law department didn't think it would and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl allowed it to become law without his signature.
But this favorable court decision is no vindication of anyone's position. In ruling against the NRA and four local gun owners, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge R. Stanton Wettick Jr. didn't rule on the validity of the law. Instead, he found the plaintiffs didn't have standing to bring suit because they were not harmed.
If Mayor Ravenstahl goes ahead and enforces the law, which he says he will do, there may come a day when a plaintiff does have standing -- and who knows the legal outcome then.
The best way to celebrate this news may be to emphasize the larger point -- that Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and a growing number of other communities are standing up for the right to regulate guns according to their own situations and needs. Lawmakers in Harrisburg should take note and pass a state law making such suits by the NRA hopeless.