Ed Rendell is taking his campaign for gun owners’ votes to sportsmen. Yet, as hard as he tries to put his past record behind him, it’s hard to hide that he was the first mayor to advocate that cities sue gun-makers. Having supported everything from waiting periods to one-gun-a-month rules to what amounts to registration makes the sale that much harder.
Guns were a particularly rancorous issue during the Democrat gubernatorial primary. Bob Casey charged that “my opponent in the primary (Rendell) is for gun control, is today and has always been for gun control.” The Democrat leader of the of the state House of Representatives, Bill DeWeese, had a radio ad for Casey saying “gun rights will be safer if Casey is elected.” The NRA entered the fray with an ad claiming: “Ed Rendell is a big-city politician who believes your guns, not criminals, are the problem.”
Rendell responded that “The NRA ads are like the Casey ads. They don’t tell the truth. There is nothing that I want to do to take a gun away from a hunter or a law-abiding citizen.” Gun-control organizations campaigning for Rendell said that he only wanted “sensible” gun laws.
Yet, because I have talked with Rendell during less guarded moments, when he was not focused on winning votes for governor, I know that Casey and DeWeese were telling the truth about Rendell’s views on guns.
During 1999, when I was at the University of Chicago law school, lawyers for the city of Philadelphia asked me to participate in a panel on cities suing gun-makers. Rendell had been the first mayor to seriously talk about doing that, and he wanted a session to educate city lawyers about the issue.
Three-quarters of the panelists (including Rendell) supported Rendell’s desire to sue the gun-makers. During the presentations, Rendell said again that he didn’t want to take guns away from hunters or law-abiding citizens and that he wanted to use the suits to make gun-makers responsible for the costs that guns impose on cities.
At the debate, there were several representatives from the Violence Policy Center, a group that has long advocated banning guns and even sponsors the Web site banhandgunsnow.org. Rendell warmly greeted the Violence Policy Center people when he arrived and included one of their representatives on the panel, but they noticeably groaned and rolled their eyes when Rendell said that he didn’t want to take away people’s guns.
After the debate, Rendell immediately headed over to the Violence Policy Center people. I wanted to follow up on the discussion, so I tried to catch up with him as he crossed the room. The Violence Policy people were still visibly disturbed by his comments and, Rendell put his arm around one of them, saying, “I just can’t say publicly what we want to do, we have to take these things slowly.” I was standing right behind Rendell when he said it.
When Rendell saw me, he angrily turned toward me, asking what I wanted. I said that I had hoped we could talk more about the issues raised by the panel. I said that I understood the costs to cities of the bad things that happen with guns, but I wanted to know why he didn’t consider the benefits of defensive gun use and of victims defending themselves.
Still quite angry, Rendell said that, as a city prosecutor, he had never seen a defensive gun use, and that as far as he was concerned, he had never heard of a defensive gun use. He said that he didn’t believe they occurred.
I started to offer to provide him examples, but he said that he didn’t need any evidence and walked away.
From Rendell’s perspective it is not so hard to see why he views so many gun control laws as “sensible.” After all, suing the gun-makers for the costs that guns produce is sensible, if guns only risk lives. It doesn’t matter if police can’t defend people all the time, if there are no alternatives.
Or take his proposals for waiting periods or to limit gun purchases to no more than one gun a month. Unfortunately, there is not one academic study that shows that these policies reduce crime. Instead, evidence indicates that, on net, waiting periods increase crime as they make it particularly more difficult for women to get guns to defend themselves against threatened attacks. What the one-gun-a-month rule will do is reduce the number of gun shows and stores in the state by about 20 percent.
Rendell obviously feels passionately about guns, but he doesn’t have the courage of his convictions in a state with high gun ownership rates and over 600,000 concealed handgun permit-holders. Instead, to cover his goals, he lied.
John Lott is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and lives in Swarthmore, Pa.