Stymied by state law that insists only Harrisburg has the right to enact controls on guns despite the pressing individual needs of municipalities, Pittsburgh and other local governments have been doing what they can - defending modest ordinances requiring the reporting of lost or stolen guns to curtail "straw purchases" of firearms by criminals.
That battle is now in the state courts, where the National Rifle Association is finding the going unusually tough for an organization that often gets its own way (yesterday, the NRA's challenge to the Pittsburgh ordinance was dismissed). But no one should cheer its predicament. After all, there's no keeping a powerful gun lobby down.
What if state gun law itself had to bow down to the greater power of federal law? That would make efforts by local communities in Pennsylvania to do something about guns even more pathetic.
Yet such an end run around state control is what is being cooked up. With the NRA's fervent blessing, a Republican senator from South Dakota, John Thune, has introduced an amendment to the Defense Authorization Act that would allow people to carry loaded concealed weapons in any state so long as they have a permit from their home state. (They still would be required to follow the host state's laws, including those concerning locations in which firearms may or may not be carried.)
The problem with this reciprocity is that some states have weak requirements for who can get such gun permits or are less vigilant in weeding out undesirable candidates to carry guns. As gun violence prevention groups have pointed out, the practical effect of such a federal law would be to reduce concealed carry permit regulations to the lowest common denominator. States with permissive gun laws like Florida would set the bar low for everyone else.
This affront to common sense is justified by the usual absurd reasoning. Mr. Thune argues that because criminals are unable to tell who is or is not carrying a firearm, this measure of putting more guns in more hands across state borders would discourage crime. In fact, the job of law enforcement would be made harder, with authority taken away from local sheriffs who know best who should be trusted with guns.
That a senator of the conservative party that has championed states' rights for years should be the one to target states' rights here is an obvious hypocrisy. But guns trump all other principles for many politicians of both parties. For the NRA, it is also efficient politics - why bother going to the time and expense of putting politicians across the country in your pocket when Congress provides one-stop shopping for your gun obsessions?
We hope that Pennsylvania's two Democratic senators, Arlen Specter and Bob Casey, resist outsourcing Pennsylvania's decisions on gun permits to other states. A vote on the amendment is expected today (a similar bill, S 845, was to be discussed in committee tomorrow, so the amendment is an end run on top of an end run).
It's bad enough that Harrisburg tries to impose one-size-fits-all gun laws on cities like Pittsburgh. We don't need Florida or other states setting the rules on who can carry guns here.