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Massacres triggering gun legislation

Gun legislation was supposed to go on the back burner this year, with the economy on life support, the health-care system overloaded, and most folks more worried about swine flu than assault weapons.

But who could ignore the series of mass shootings that killed police in Oakland and Pittsburgh, nursing-home residents in North Carolina, and immigrants in Binghamton? Especially since the victims were buried around the 10-year anniversary of the massacre at Columbine High School, two years after the tearful tragedy at Virginia Tech.

Suddenly, Gov. Rendell is back on TV, begging fellow politicians to get serious about commonsense gun laws or stop attending funerals for cops shot in the line of duty – because that’s “hypocritical.”

On his trip south of the border, President Obama acknowledged the uncomfortable fact that the vicious Mexican drug war is being fought with killing machines too easily obtained on U.S. soil.

Fed-up leaders of tiny towns are flocking to the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition, disproving the notion that the violence and lawlessness is just a big-city problem.

And while state legislators sleep, communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey are boldly passing their own gun laws, refusing to be intimidated by the National Rifle Association’s legal threats.

Just last week, the Harrisburg City Council approved a proposal requiring the owner to alert police if a gun is lost or stolen.

The symbolic 7-0 vote took place two blocks from the statehouse. So much for changing the subject.

Closing in on the capital

Linda Thompson was done waiting. The Harrisburg Council president said she could “no longer sit by idly and hope and pray state officials stop playing it safe.”

“They’re not on the front lines,” she told me, where “gun pimps come into neighborhoods, pop the trunk, and negotiate deals in exchange for drugs or money.”

Thompson doesn’t believe a lost-and-stolen law will halt gun trafficking, but it’s a worthy first step.

Convincing colleagues wasn’t easy, she said, since they knew they’d be attacked for trying to protect their city.

“We’ve been sued by better,” Thompson said.

Harrisburg joins Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Reading, Pottsville, Allentown, and Jersey City in passing municipal gun laws.

“It’s their way of fighting back against the legislature and Congress, folks either refusing to act or telling them they can’t act,” said Paul Helmke of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

Strength in numbers

A dozen Pennsylvania law enforcement officers have been shot and killed in the line of duty since 2005 – half of them in 2008 – prompting Reading Mayor Tom McMahon to ask Pennsylvania colleagues to join him in the Mayors Against Illegal Guns coalition.

Thirty-one mayors across the commonwealth signed on in the last month alone, many from hamlets like Oxford and Marietta.

“We haven’t had a big problem yet, but where there are drugs there are guns – and we have had issues with drugs,” Marietta’s longtime mayor, Oliver Overlander, said of his “bedroom community” of 2,300 on the Susquehanna River.

The city-by-city, mayor-by-mayor movement has the potential to encircle the state capital, forcing legislators’ hands.

Think I’m reaching? Helmke likened the effort to “the nonviolent protests of the ’60s.”

The other side, long accustomed to controlling the gun debate in this state, has clearly taken notice.

Last month, 1,000 gun owners rallied in Harrisburg against politicians calling for gun control after the Pittsburgh police slayings.

A few days later, the NRA sued to overturn Pittsburgh’s lost-and-stolen gun law.

The suit was filed as residents mourned officers murdered by a man wielding an AK-47.

Talk about poor taste and worse timing.

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