Pennsylvania appears to be at a crossroads when it comes to the Second Amendment.
Governor Tom Wolf made his feelings clear about preemption by standing alongside Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto when the mayor announced his intentions to ignore state law and pass local gun control anyway.
However, another case may be laying much of the groundwork for that battle. It doesn’t hurt that a pro-gun group just scored a really big win on that case, either.
In a new ruling, the court found that a gun owners’ group and several individual members that are fighting the city regulations do have standing to challenge most of the ordinances. That is a reversal of a 2018 decision by Dauphin County Judge Andrew Dowling.
The court’s 7-0 ruling also reverses its own past decisions that have shielded some local gun ordinances from similar lawsuits under the argument that plaintiffs had not been prosecuted under their terms and therefore could show no harm.
Writing for the majority, Judge Kevin Brobson noted that the appellants here “have no real alternative to address their grievance. They can curb their conduct to conform to the ordinances’ mandates or they can willfully violate the law and face criminal prosecution…
“It makes little sense to wait for appellants to break the law, which we presume they do not want to do, before they can challenge it,” Brobson concluded.
The new ruling permits the Harrisburg lawsuit to proceed on ordinances that:
- Bar anyone under the age of 18 from carrying a gun in public unless they are accompanied by an adult.
- Prohibiting the shooting of any guns by the public within the city limits for any purpose other than self-defense.
- Require gun owners to report to police any loss or theft of a gun within 48 hours of discovery.
- Bar the possession or firing of guns in city parks.
The ordinances all date from 2009, but like many other local gun laws in the state, haven’t been enforced. That’s fine because an unenforced law is a non-existent law for all practical purposes.
However, Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse has ordered the police department to begin enforcement of the measures, which means it’s time to do something about them.
While some of these measures may seem to be no big deal–laws against discharging a firearm except in self-defense are hardly unusual, for example–the fact of the matter is that these still violate the state’s preemption laws. They need to be heard in court and allow the judicial branch of the state’s government to act.
Further, this also makes it clear that pro-gun groups who seek to take on Pittsburgh’s new “assault weapon” ban will also have standing in their lawsuit. This is key as this destroys one of the city’s most likely avenues of attack in the proceedings. Now they’ll have to win on the merits of their case, which means they have to convince the courts that preemption is somehow illegal and shouldn’t stand.
Of course, it’s also possible that the lawsuit against Harrisburg will already settle that question just fine as well.
This is a big win up in Pennsylvania, and I hope it’s just the most recent of many, many more.