City detective says harsher gun laws could save lives

By Lindsay Carroll

‘ ‘ ‘ This is the sixth installment in a series of reports from Lindsay Carroll, who… ‘ ‘ ‘ This is the sixth installment in a series of reports from Lindsay Carroll, who enrolled in the Citizens’ Police Academy, a 15-week training course run by the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police. ‘ ‘ ‘ Detective Jill Rustin moved from slide to slide, showing a picture of a different bullet-ridden body with each click. One person had more than five bullet holes in his shoulder and neck. Some had wounds that had blackened over, and others had raw, bloody, red flesh. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘This is what shaped me into having an interest in how the public and our communities perceive firearms,’ said Rustin. ‘There are just some things we can’t take back, and a bullet is one of them.’ ‘ ‘ ‘ Fifty-five out of 69 homicides that Pittsburgh’s Bureau of Police faces right now are gun-related, said Rustin, who spoke to students in the Bureau’s Citizens’ Police Academy on Monday. ‘ ‘ ‘ Rustin works in the Firearms Tracking Unit, which uses databases to track the owner of every gun recovered in criminal investigations, such as homicides. ‘ ‘ ‘ Before working in her current department, Rustin spent almost 13 years in the Bureau’s homicide department. She has worked as a police officer for 22 years. ‘ ‘ ‘ She said that more than 1,000 guns per year are recovered in Pittsburgh, and the vast majority of those guns can be traced back to an owner whose gun was lost or stolen. ‘ ‘ ‘ Currently, Pennsylvania law doesn’t require gun owners to report a missing or stolen gun. And that has dangerous repercussions, Rustin said. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘It’s more than just killing ‘mdash; it’s changing the people who aren’t in the wrong place at the wrong time. It’s people who are the victims,’ said Rustin. ‘ ‘ ‘ She showed a newspaper article about a girl who was paralyzed after she got shot when a gunfight broke out at a church carnival. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We can quit making those guns accessible,’ said Rustin. ‘ ‘ ‘ A person who steals a gun from its lawful owner can sell or trade it for narcotics, so a gun is a valuable commodity on the streets. ‘ ‘ ‘ Straw purchasing has become more popular recently, said Rustin. A straw purchase is when a legal buyer purchases a gun and then sells it to someone who cannot buy one legally ‘mdash; such as a felon or a person under the age of 21. ‘ ‘ ‘ Straw purchasing is a felony offense under the Gun Control Act of 1968, said Rustin, both for the purchaser and the ultimate possessor. ‘ ‘ ‘ City councilman Bruce Kraus, a student in the class, co-sponsored legislation with fellow councilman Bill Peduto last month that would require gun owners to report their guns missing or stolen within 24 hours after realizing it was missing. People who violate the law would be subject to a fine for their first offense and jail time for their second offense. ‘ ‘ ‘ Kraus said about 10 percent of gun owners who have had their guns stolen report it to the police. ‘ ‘ ‘ The legislation would help police weed out people who make straw purchases because once the Firearms Tracking Unit recovered the guns, it could trace those guns back to the original owners and see a pattern. ‘ ‘ ‘ The straw purchasers could accumulate a criminal record because after they sold the gun to an ineligible buyer, they probably would not report the missing gun to the police, said Rustin. ‘ ‘ ‘ She said it’s common for one gun to be tracked to two or three aggravated assaults. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘We don’t want to be known for what Philadelphia is known for,’ she said. ‘ ‘ ‘ Kraus said that in Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter passed a bill that would target straw purchasing. When challenged, it was struck down. ‘ ‘ ‘ The reasoning was that a municipality does not have the authority to regulate lawful gun owners, said Kraus. ‘ ‘ ‘ The bill awaits a Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, and Pittsburgh’s City Council is challenging other cities such as Erie to draft a similar straw purchasing bill to demonstrate its importance to the courts, said Kraus. ‘ ‘ ‘ Gun control was a particularly hot topic last summer, when the U.S. Supreme Court voted against a Washington, D.C., ban on handguns. ‘ ‘ ‘ The National Rifle Association has been one of the lead advocates against city gun bills, such as the one Pittsburgh modeled. ‘ ‘ ‘ ‘The city of Pittsburgh is following the poor example of Philadelphia by passing illegal city gun ordinances,’ according to the NRA Web site. ‘ ‘ ‘ Rustin said that gun owners should keep an inventory of the make, model and serial number of all their firearms and purchase a gun safe or a cabinet without glass. They should take a gun-safety course and talk to their families about owning the gun, she added.