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John Lott (on right) testifies on Pittsburgh’s proposed gun-control regulations. (Ariel Worthy/WESA)

(Pittsburgh) – Critics of Pittsburgh’s proposed gun-control regulations were vocal during a post-agenda hearing convened by City Councilor Darlene Harris Tuesday afternoon. 

Leadoff panelist John Lott, a controversial partisan in the debate over gun-violence, said that gun-free zones and similar rules could invite attacks.

“One of the things you see frequently mentioned is the choice of target,” he said. 

Gun laws seeking to limit firearms were often ineffective, he added, because “drug gangs from the rest of the world bring in weapons” to the United States. Given that, “We have to be careful not to disarm law-abiding citizens.”

A second panelist, psychologist Charles Gallo, said that in the wake of a horrific act of gun violence like last fall’s shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue, “The anger attempts to find a place to go … It doesn’t go to the perpetrator; it goes to an object.” 

The panel’s make-up, which Harris’ office said was still being finalized as of Tuesday morning, tilted heavily toward foes of gun regulation. Gallo, for one, is a board member of Firearm Owners Against Crime, the region’s highest-profile gun-rights advocacy group. (The meeting agenda identified him only as a clincial psychologist.) Another panelist invited to speak, Kim Stolfer, is the group’s president, while a third speaker, Allegheny County Councilor Sam DeMarco, is a FOAC member who has been endorsed by the group in previous election cycles, and is up for re-election this year.

Stolfer drew umbrage from councilor Theresa Kail-Smith, who had supported Harris’ call for a post-agenda. At one point, he asked, “Why are we not holding the [Tree of Life] synagogue responsible for not having security?”


Protesters gather to criticize Pittsburgh’s new gun laws. (Kathleen J. Davis/WESA)

Kail Smith said she was “offended” by the question. “It’s almost blaming the victims,” she said. “When you make those kinds of comments, you hurt your own cause.”

But Lott has the highest national profile, in part because he frequently appears on TV following mass shootings, like the 2015 killing of nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.

His book “More Guns, Less Crime” is a touchstone for gun-rights advocates, though its argument that gun-control measures can increase crime has drawn criticism from other researchers. Lott himself came under fire after an incident in which he apparently created a fake online account to tout his accomplishments as an academic, among other controversies.

Other speakers invited included former Democratic state Rep. Dom Costa, who did not attend the hearing, and a representative from the District Attorney’s office. District Attorney Steve Zappala himself previously sent council a letter discouraging it from adopting the regulations

Harris called for the post-agenda, saying she wanted “neutral people” to weigh in on the city regulations, which would ban certain kinds of weapons, ammunition, and accessories. Harris herself has not backed the bill, though a council majority supports it.