Second Amendment supporters by the hundreds flooded the rotunda of the Pennsylvania State Capitol building in Harrisburg yesterday. The packed, standing-room-only crowd, driving in from across the state in the middle of a torrential rain, listened to state lawmakers and gun owners denounce Governor Edward G. Rendell's call for a ban on assault weapons.
Rendell, who is term-limited and cannot seek re-election, recently called for a ban on assault rifles and a limit of handgun purchases in the state to one a month. His demand followed the recent shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers who were murdered by 22-year-old Richard Poplawski.
One gun advocate took direct aim at Rendell's use of the Pittsburgh shootings, charging the Governor with playing politics. He noted that two of the three officers killed were shot not by an assault rifle but a pump-action shotgun and .357 revolver. He further noted that Poplawski, already the subject of several protection-from-abuse court orders, should have automatically been prevented from purchasing or owning guns under current Pennsylvania law. The laws, it was said, don't work, and Rendell wants more of them. Through a spokesman, Rendell disagreed, citing what he called a rising level of gun violence in the state.
The speakers, according to Harrisburg Patriot-News reporter John Luciew, included the Republican State Senate Whip, Senator Jane Orie of Allegheny County -- Pittsburgh. Also participating was John Sigler, the president of the National Rifle Association.
Gun control has long been a "third rail" issue in Pennsylvania. While outsiders view the state in terms of its two largest cities, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, the state in fact has a large rural component that has focused repeatedly on Second Amendment rights. The pattern began when gun control first emerged as an issue following the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Senator Robert F. Kennedy in the 1960s. In a surprise upset in 1968, then-Republican Congressman Richard Schweiker defeated former Philadelphia mayor and then-U.S. Senator Joseph Clark, who was running for re-election. Clark, a longtime liberal, had become a strong supporter of gun control. From that campaign forward Pennsylvania candidates have been leery of being depicted as anti-Second Amendment.
Rendell has no plans to run for office again in the state and was accused by gun owners at the State Capitol rally of seeking to burnish his credentials for a future job in the Obama administration.