Pittsburgh, PA is defending a series of local ordinances approved by the City Council and mayor in violation of the state’s firearm pre-emption law, and one ordinance dealing with “large capacity magazines” has brought out a linguistically and logically tortured argument in an attempt to uphold the law. According to the attorneys for Everytown for Gun Safety, which is defending Pittsburgh’s ordinances free of charge, “using” a magazine has nothing to do with “possessing” a magazine.
City lawyers called four city residents’ arguments against a newly passed gun law “erroneous” in a legal brief filed this week.
The brief, filed Tuesday, argues that the plaintiffs misinterpreted the city’s ordinance as a “ban” on large-capacity magazines — defined as holding more than 10 ammunition rounds — when the law states that what is prohibited is “use” in public places.
“As a result, there is no genuine dispute between the parties and the Plaintiffs do not have standing to challenge the [large capacity magazine] ordinance,” the brief reads.
Pennsylvania has a firearms pre-emption law in place that is supposed to prevent local cities and municipalities from passing any local gun control laws that deal with “ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components”. The word “use” is not included in the pre-emption language, however, and that’s what the Pittsburgh ordinance is supposedly about.
The new city law, which is currently not being enforced, defines “use” of large-capacity magazines in public places as employing or attempting to discharge the magazine; loading it with ammunition; installing it into a firearm; or brandishing it or displaying it with a firearm while it is loaded.
Violators could face up to a $1,000 fine for each offense.
“’[U]se’ of a Large Capacity Magazine does not include possession, ownership, transportation or transfer,” the law states. Public places “does not include a private home or residence or any duly established site for the sale or transfer of Firearms or for Firearm training, practice or competition,” it continues.
Granted, I’m not an attorney, much less a high-powered attorney specializing in defending gun control laws, but it seems to me that there’s a flaw in the city’s defense. “Using” a magazine necessarily means that you are in possession of it, and since possession is covered under the state’s pre-emption law, use is necessarily covered as well.
Beyond the legal argument, however, let’s look at how Pittsburgh’s ordinance would work, practically speaking. According to the city, the ordinance would only be violated if someone attempted to discharge a firearm with a “large capacity magazine” attached, if they loaded a magazine in public, if they put the magazine in the firearm in public, or if they brandished or displayed the firearm in public with the magazine attached.
That’s not going to really cover a lot of criminal cases, is it? And what’s the punishment for violating this so-called safety measure? A fine.
Any violent criminal that’s going to be charged with violating this ordinance is going to be facing far more serious charges. This charge is likely to be dropped by prosecutors, or even worse, be used as a plea-bargaining chip. Plead guilty to the reduced charge of violating the city ordinance on using a “large capacity” magazine, and we’ll drop the more serious charges instead.
Ultimately, the anti-gun politicians in Pittsburgh and their Everytown attorneys don’t care how useful this ordinance is in terms of public safety. It’s simply a way for the activists to challenge the state’s firearms pre-emption law itself. And if they get that thrown out by a court, expect far more intrusive and unconstitutional ordinances to be passed in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and other towns where anti-gunners are in charge.