Pittsburgh, Philly Mayors Pushing For Power To Impose Local Gun Laws

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Mayor Bill Peduto has already tried and failed once in his quest to get courts to strike down the state’s firearm preemption law that blocks localities from imposing their own local gun control ordinances, but he’s back at it again, this time teaming up with Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney and anti-gun groups to support another attempt to undo the state law.

This time around it’s the state capitol of Harrisburg that’s at the center of a legal battle over local gun laws, but Peduto and Kenney have signed on to an amicus brief filed with the state Supreme Court arguing that, as the mayors of Pennsylvania’s two biggest cities, they too would like the ability to impose their own draconian gun laws. From the Pittsburgh Tribune:

Firearm Owners Against Crime, a Second Amendment rights organization, and several of its members sued Harrisburg in 2015, contending the city’s ordinances were preempted by a state law that prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms. Dauphin County Court ruled the plaintiffs had no standing to sue because they had not been cited under the ordinances.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court overturned the county court ruling and Harrisburg is appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Pittsburgh on Wednesday joined Philadelphia and a slew of anti-gun groups in support of Harrisburg, saying the Commonwealth Court decision would trigger a “flood of baseless lawsuits.”

“Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are the Commonwealth’s biggest municipalities,” the legal brief says. “Together, they provide city services, administer justice, and ensure public safety for over 1.8 million Pennsylvanians. Respondents’ lawsuit imperils all three of these basic municipal functions.”

Harrisburg’s local ordinances prohibit anyone under the age of 18 from carrying a gun in public unless they are with an adult, prohibit all firearms inside the city limits unless they’re for self-defense, prohibit possession of firearms in city parks, and a lost-or-stolen gun ordinance requiring gun owners to report missing firearms within 48 hours.

Gun control groups like Ceasefire PA claim that these local ordinances represent “innovative solutions that reduce gun deaths” without violating the state’s firearms preemption law. The biggest problem with that argument is that the ordinances actually do violate state preemption law, which clearly states that local laws regulating “the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components.” Each and every one of Harrisburg’s ordinances deals with the lawful possession of firearms, and each of them run afoul of the state’s preemption law as a result.

Ceasfire PA wants to see more of these local laws on the books, but at the moment the main issue is whether or not groups like Firearms Owners Against Crime have standing to bring a legal challenge against cities like Harrisburg. “Absolutely not,”  says Ceasefire PA.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court will soon hear arguments in a monumental gun safety case (Firearm Owners Against Crime (FOAC) et al v. Harrisburg) that could drastically alter how local governments attempt to address gun violence in their communities.  Today, a coalition of mayors, elected officials and community organizations submitted a “Friend of the Court” brief (amicus brief, attached) to the court detailing how siding with the gun lobby in this case would severely hamper local innovation to save lives from gun violence.

The case was brought by FOAC, a “gun rights” PAC, and three individuals (one of whom is the founder of FOAC) over gun safety laws in Harrisburg. But in an unusual twist, none of the plaintiffs had been charged under any of the ordinances in question, which include bringing guns to local parks or failing to report lost or stolen guns. Traditionally, such a lack of provable harm, known legally as standing, would prevent these plaintiffs from challenging Harrisburg’s laws in court.  The Commonwealth Court’s decision to allow the suit to proceed despite the lack of standing is the key issue on appeal at this stage of the case.

The coalition, led by CeaseFirePA Education Fund and Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, filed an amicus brief on behalf of a variety of more than 60 local officials, religious leaders, community organizations and gun violence groups that have led efforts to prevent gun violence in Pittsburgh, Lancaster, and other communities.

“This lawsuit is a bullying tactic by the gun lobby,” said Rob Conroy, CeaseFirePA Education Fund’s Director of Organizing. “If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court upholds this decision, so-called ‘gun rights’ organizations could use this ruling to muzzle communities developing innovative, community-based solutions to end gun violence by filing lawsuits designed to bankrupt them for trying to keep their residents safe.”

A local misdemeanor ordinance isn’t an “innovative, community-based solution” to end gun violence. In fact, if we’re to believe mayors like Bill Peduto and Jim Kenney, the systematic racism inherent in the criminal justice system will mean these new ordinances will inevitably and unfairly target young men of color at a disproportionate rate, leading to far more injustice than justice done.

More importantly, none of these laws actually address violent crime. There are already plenty of state-level laws on the books that prosecutors can use to charge violent criminals. The problem is most of the time the most serious charges are plea-bargained away, returning the guilty party back to the streets in a short amount of time and with the feeling that the law doesn’t take crime seriously. These local ordinances are aimed at legal gun owners, not the guys who are responsible for driving violent crime in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia.

We’ll soon learn if the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will uphold the ability of Firearms Owners Against Crime and individuals to bring suit against Harrisburg’s local gun laws, and Pittsburgh is defending its own local laws in state court as well. In fact, Mayor Peduto is currently appealing a decision that struck down several Pittsburgh ordinances passed with the specific intent of challenging the state’s preemption laws. So far the fight has gone in favor of Second Amendment supporters. Let’s hope it stays that way.