We’re featuring good news for gun owners on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co; an opinion from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that paves the way for Second Amendment activists to challenge local gun control laws put in place in clear violation of the state’s firearm preemption law.
The roots of this case date back more than five years. Back in 2015, three Pennsylvania gun owners and the group Firearms Owners Against Crime filed suit against the city of Harrisburg over several ordinances that were enacted despite the fact that the state legislature has the sole authority to regulate firearms and ammunition. Over the next several years the lawsuit bounced around both federal and state courts before a Pennsylvania judge finally ruled that, unless the plaintiffs had actually been arrested and charged with violating the ordinances in question, they had no standing to sue.
The Commonwealth Court of Appeals disagreed in large part, and said that the plaintiffs could challenge ordinances barring the discharge of a firearm outside of a gun range, requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, banning the lawful possession of firearms in public parks, and barring minors from possessing firearms unless accompanied by an adult even if they hadn’t been charged with violating any of the laws. Today, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court agreed.
The majority opinion in the 4-3 decision said the plaintiffs do not have to wait until they are charged with violating the ordinances before challenging them on constitutional grounds.
Kim Stolfer, who heads up the firearm owners’ group, said Wednesday he expects the case to return to a lower court where the underlying merits of their case will be decided.
“No citizen should face prosecution for exercising a constitutional right,” Stolfer said. “And that’s essentially what Harrisburg wanted us to go through to be qualified in this action to take on their illegal ordinances.”
This is a big win for gun owners in Pennsylvania, even if it doesn’t automatically mean that the Harrisburg ordinances will be thrown out. The gun control lobby has been trying to get rid of the state’s preemption law for years now, and the city of Philadelphia has even launched a lawsuit of its own trying to have the preemption law declared null and void. Anti-gun activists and their political allies were desperately hoping that the state’s highest court would declare that in order to have standing to challenge any local law, plaintiffs must be able to show that they’d suffered actual harm by being charged with a crime. Instead, the court pointed out the absurdity of that standard.
… Appellees currently must make a choice to either comply with the ordinances, thereby forfeiting what they view as their constitutionally and statutorily protected firearms rights; or violate the ordinances by exercising their rights, thereby risking criminal prosecution. Appellees also have a third option, which is to stop living in, commuting to, or travelling to the City to avoid being subject to its ordinances, which would of course entail relocating from the City, changing employers, or foregoing legislative advocacy. That Appellees are confronted with these options shows that their interest in the outcome of the constitutionality and preemption of the challenged ordinances is substantial, immediate, and direct.
In other words, these plaintiffs (and other gun owners) are potentially suffering harm by the very existence of these ordinances, if they are indeed a violation of the state’s firearm preemption statute. And rather than just let that question remain a hypothetical one, the state Supreme Court says gun owners deserve their day in court, and shouldn’t have to be arrested to get it.
If you’re a Second Amendment law geek, you can check out the court’s full opinion here. And if you’re a Pennsylvania gun owner, get ready, because Democrats are determined to get rid of your state’s preemption law the first chance they get. Next year’s state legislative elections are going to be critically important, because if Democrats take control of the statehouse, they’ll unleash a wave of local gun bans and more in the cities where they’re already running the show but are currently powerless to impose their anti-gun agenda.