Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is locked in a legal fight with several residents and Second Amendment organizations over the local gun control ordinances, including a “red flag” provision, that were signed by Mayor Bill Peduto earlier this year. At issue is the fact that in Pennsylvania, the state legislature alone has the power to regulate gun laws, which anti-gun politicians like Peduto find unacceptable. The mayor says he tried to get other cities in Pennsylvania to pass local gun control ordinances in an effort to challenge the state’s firearms preemption law, but couldn’t get any other municipality to join his anti-gun crusade.
Mr. Peduto said earlier this year that he was hoping to enlist municipalities across the state to pass similar laws, with the expectation that they will be challenged by the NRA. If the gun lobbying organization chose to challenge all of them in court, it would strain its attention and resources, he reasoned, and possibly weaken its grip.
Plus, his hope was that a collection of local movements would rise to the state level.
But in Pennsylvania, there’s been no rush of municipalities spoiling for a fight over these measures. Mr. Peduto now believes Pittsburgh will be the test case.
“I think that if we’re successful you’re going to see in hundreds of cities similar legislation being proposed,” Mr. Peduto said.
The thing is, the actual ordinances passed by Pittsburgh’s City Council are really a red herring. It’s not these specific ordinances that Peduto and gun control activists actually want, but the ability to pass local gun control laws itself. These ordinances were carefully crafted by anti-gun attorneys specifically to provoke a legal challenge, and these attorneys aren’t just working with Pittsburgh. It’s just part of a national effort by gun control groups to challenge firearms preemption laws.
We saw something very similar in Missoula, Montana, where a universal background check law was just struck down by the state’s Supreme Court as a violation of the state’s firearms preemption law. In Ohio, the city of Cincinnati is suing the state in an attempt to nullify the firearms preemption law in state statute. Several states, including Virginia and Florida, have seen legislation introduced that would repeal existing firearms preemption laws.
If these laws are taken off the books, either through litigation or legislation, gun owners in cities and suburbs will lose a valuable protection against overreaching and unconstitutional gun control laws imposed by local politicians. Firearms preemption laws allow for a uniform standard for gun laws to be passed at the state level. It doesn’t automatically prevent abuses of the right to keep and bear arms, because lord knows state legislators can violate the Second Amendment as easy as a city council member, but it at least allows for litigation against a single state, instead of trying to pursue cases against dozens of municipalities that may pass their own gun control laws.
The Supreme Court may offer some safeguard against those overreaching and unconstitutional laws when it issues its decision in the challenge to a New York City gun law known as New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. New York City, because the court could rule that gun control laws must be examined under the highest level of judicial review. That would only help after a law has been passed, however, and in the absence of firearms preemption laws, anti-gun politicians in deep-blue cities would pass so many local gun control laws it would be difficult, if not impossible, to file suit challenging all of them.
We can’t rely solely on the judiciary to protect the right to keep and bear arms, and firearms preemption laws serve as a vitally important legislative check on the whims of mayors like Bill Peduto. This particular gun control campaign isn’t as sexy or as high profile as Beto O’Rourke’s gun ban and mandatory “buy back”, but activists around the country are quietly working very hard to infringe on your rights at the local level.