Josh Shapiro the clear choice on Gun Violence Prevention

Democratic Attorney General candidate Josh Shapiro received an eye-popping $250,000 donation from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading proponent of more expansive gun-control measures nationwide.
By Chris Potter / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Democratic Attorney General candidate Josh Shapiro may favor a number of gun-control initiatives, but he doesn’t lack for political ammunition. According to campaign-finance reports released last week, he received an eye-popping $250,000 donation from former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a leading proponent of more expansive gun-control measures nationwide.

That Aug. 1 contribution accounted for more than 9 cents of every dollar raised by Mr. Shapiro and his rival, state Sen. John Rafferty, R-Montgomery, this summer. And their contest is drawing interest from both sides of the gun debate.

Mr. Bloomberg, whose gun-control advocacy has drawn national attention, could not be reached for comment. But “more and more people are paying attention to gun violence prevention, because people have had enough,” said Jeff Dempsey, the program director for gun-control advocacy group CeaseFirePA. The organization’s political arm has endorsed Mr. Shapiro, who Mr. Dempsey said “has a long track record of supporting gun-violence prevention measures.”

Mr. Bloomberg “is the modern-day equivalent of a carpet-bagger, using his money to buy elections and dominate civil discourse,” countered Kim Stolfer, the chairman of Firearm Owners Against Crime, a gun-rights advocacy group.

While the presidential race was “the most significant priority” for gun owners, Mr. Stolfer said, “I’d rank the attorney general as more of a concern than the Senate race” between Republican incumbent Pat Toomey and Democrat Katie McGinty. (Mr. Toomey, who supports expanding background checks for firearm purchases, has also been endorsed by Mr. Bloomberg.)

Activists on both sides of the gun issue cite ousted state Attorney General Kathleen Kane as an example of what’s at stake in the attorney general race. Ms. Kane ended a “reciprocity agreement” under which Pennsylvania honored concealed-weapons permits issued by Florida. Under the so-called “Florida loophole,” those barred from carrying weapons under Pennsylvania law had been able to seek a permit from the Sunshine State, doing an end-run around state rules

Mr. Shapiro, a former state legislator and current Montgomery County Commissioner, has pledged to review such agreements with other states. He’d also use the office to advocate for more changes in state law, pushing to require gun owners to report when firearms are lost or stolen, for example.

“Josh brings a sensible approach to keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill,” said Shapiro spokesman Joe Radosevich.

Mr. Rafferty, for his part, backed a 2014 measure that allowed groups like the National Rifle Association to sue cities with ordinances related to guns, even if none of their members had been charged under those laws. (Pittsburgh, which had its own lost-and-stolen reporting requirement, was among the cities sued.)

Critics said the measure, which was overturned by the state Supreme Court in June, gave gun activists unprecedented ability to bully communities whose laws they didn’t like. The NRA argued that Pennsylvania law precludes local governments from passing gun rules in the first place.

“John Rafferty is looking to crack down on folks who are illegally obtaining guns,” said Mike Barley, a Rafferty spokesman. But “he has a clear record of supporting the Second Amendment. Our opponent doesn’t.”

The National Rifle Association gave Mr. Rafferty an A- rating, calling it “critical that Pennsylvania elects an attorney general who is willing to stand up to … political elites like Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and Michael Bloomberg.”

The NRA gave Mr. Shapiro a D, but it’s Mr. Rafferty who appears outgunned. The NRA has contributed only $1,000 to him, and as of mid-September his campaign had just over $700,000 on hand. Mr. Shapiro, who is known for fundraising prowess, raised $1.8 million this summer after a bruising three-way Democratic primary. His campaign now has more than $1.4 million.

Duquesne University law professor Bruce Ledewitz called Mr. Bloomberg’s donation “a lot of money,” but added, “The attorney general does not make policy.”

Mr. Ledewitz allowed that an attorney general could play a “not insignificant” role in calling for legislative reforms, and could also file “friend-of-the-court” briefs when issues such as gun control come before the U.S. Supreme Court. “I’m sure these candidates would sign very different briefs,” he said.

But for the most part, he said, “I don’t think the attorney general would matter as much as people may think.”

Chris Potter: cpotter@post-gazette.com

 

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