Anti-violence advocates react to gun trafficking

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Coalition Against Violence co-founder Tim Stevens said the organization is updating its documents on addressing illegal guns, but as to whether he agrees with a recent report on the nature of gun trafficking in Pittsburgh, he said he had no definitive answers.

“There has been an ongoing intrigue put forth saying, ‘if we have no Black gun manufacturers in the community, how are these guns getting here,’” he said. “But we don’t have any farmers either and we still get lettuce. I’m sure theft and straw purchases are part of it, but how much—I don’t know. But I know they are putting themselves and the community in danger.”

TimStevens2011
TIM STEVENS

The report on firearms tracking was made Nov. 12 by Pittsburgh police Det. Joe Bielevicz who works with the US Department of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to follow guns used in crimes. Its main conclusions are that guns used in street crime are mostly local and are either stolen, traded for drugs buy users, or purchased by straw buyers—the bulk of whom are women buying them for their men.

Richard Garland, director of Allegheny County’s One Vision One Life anti-street violence initiative, said he sees examples of everything in the report regularly.

“I believe women are buying these guns, and I know people are bringing in guns from the suburbs to trade for drugs. So yes the police are not far off the mark,” he said. “But there are guys going to Virginia and other places to get guns. The police get, what, a thousand guns a year? It doesn’t say how many that leaves out there. It’s still very easy to get a gun.”

Both Garland and Stevens mentioned the city’s 2008 legislation requiring owners to report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours. Stevens noted, however, that it is not being enforced. In a meeting with the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network Nov. 4, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl again said the bill was unenforceable because gun regulation is a state matter. Ravenstahl refused to sign council’s 2008 legislation for the same reason.

State courts have since dismissed a lawsuit by the National Rifle Association claiming the legislation was unconstitutional, but only because the NRA lacked legal standing. In June the state Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal. In addition to Pittsburgh, 45 municipalities in the state have adopted similar legislation.

Valerie Dixon, executive director of the Prevent Another Crime Today billboard initiative, and long time anti-violence activist, said she doesn’t disagree with the trafficking report because she’s heard it already.

“That’s old news. They know that,” she said. “I see these kids out there getting caught up in the life, and in the killings. Regardless of where the guns are coming from, something has to be done.”

Dixon would like to see sales of guns between individuals, or even gifts, require the same level of paperwork needed for other sales.

“We do it with houses, with cars, why not guns? If you give your gun to someone without the paperwork and someone is killed, you should be charged as the last owner,” she said. “I’m for responsible gun ownership, and I would hope the NRA would support that. But right now, the kinds of laws being created aren’t addressing the problem.”

(Send comments to cmorrow@newpittsburghcourier.com.)

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