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Pittsburgh officials receive death threats from gun ban opponents

Bob Bauder
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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and City Councilman Corey O’Connor confirmed Wednesday that they have received death threats from people who disagree with the city’s proposed gun ban.

O’Connor, one of the sponsors of the gun legislation, said he received a telephone voice mail two weeks ago from someone threatening to kill him.

“We’re in the limelight,” O’Connor said. “People can have their opinions. They’re not scaring me.”

Peduto said he’s received threats on a “continual basis” since taking office in 2014. He has not noticied an increase in threats since proposing the gun restrictions.

“Of course there have been some people who have responded in an unfortunate manner, but at the same time the vast majority of people have responded with just their First Amendment right of providing an alternative (to the gun legislation),” Peduto said. “It comes with the job. I wasn’t ready for it when I was in my first year, and I’ve unfortunately become used to it. We have good intelligence, and we have the ability to track to see if it’s a real threat or not.”

Councilwoman Erika Strassburger of Squirrel Hill, who co-sponsored the legislation, said she has not received any direct threats, but received nasty emails and is aware of threatening social media posts.

The proposed gun bills would ban certain semi-automatic weapons and accessories and authorize courts to temporarily remove a person’s guns if they are deemed to be a threat. They have drawn wide criticism from activists who have threatened impeachment for Peduto and vowed to file criminal charges against the mayor and council members should the legislation pass. They cite Pennsylvania law that prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms.

Council last week, under a heavy police guard, conducted a public hearing on the bills in the City-County Building, Downtown.

“This is my 12th year on council, and the public hearing we had on guns was the first time I was ever frightened as a member of council,” said Councilman Ricky Burgess of North Point Breeze, adding that he fully supports the ban. “I listened to some of the people. I looked at them. You could see the anger. It wasn’t a civil conversation about policy. It was anger.”

Peduto and council members said threats haven’t curbed their determination to pass the bills.

“We have gotten ugly emails and ugly statements from people,” Burgess said. “OK, there comes a moment — and this is that moment — where a majority of council … want to stand up and say enough is enough. For me, it’s this week. I had two shootings in Homewood on Monday.”

The mayor said he received wide support last week during a trip to Washington from mayors of other cities.

He said he’s working with mayors from Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio, on a plan to boycott gun and ammunition manufacturers that refuse to adopt safe standards.

“(Cities are) one of the largest purchasers of weapons and bullets, and we want to look at a free market approach to this as well,” Peduto said. “You can imagine the city of Pittsburgh. We have 900 officers. We go through a lot of ammunition. A city like New York has 40,000 officers.”

He said mayors and police chiefs would meet in Toledo in April to work out specifics.

Peduto said he met with Annapolis, Md., Mayor Gavin Buckley on a plan to lessen the amount of hate speech in America. It would include 77 cities that have experienced mass homicides since 2000.

“Hate speech leads directly to hate crime,” Peduto said. “They are putting together a meeting sometime this spring or summer, talking about how we can lessen the rhetoric around hate speech and be able to reverse back to the point where it was not accepted.”

He had a “very passionate meeting” with mayors of Orlando and Parkland, Fla. — Buddy Dyer and Christine Hunschofsky — on ways to share information and learn lessons from traumatic events, including gun violence and other catastrophes.

“These challenges are why we haven’t had any real success in fighting gun violence and the epidemic of people dying throughout this country,” Peduto said. “It has to start somewhere, and it has to be now.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.