One of the legal principles that can be most annoying is the issue of standing. In other words, someone has to show they were impacted by a law in order to challenge a law, even if it’s a ridiculously stupid law. In many cases, that means you have to be charged with breaking that law. However, that’s a problem, particularly on things like gun rights cases. Once you break the law, you run into issues with your gun rights. Even if you don’t commit a felony, you could end up losing expensive property that’s renamed “exhibit A”.
Plus, it’s a pain in the butt anyway.
In Pennsylvania, the issue of standing is at the heart of a preemption case involving the city of Harrisburg. Now the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will be left to decide if people who haven’t been charged with a crime have standing to sue.
Harrisburg’s measure is 11 years old, but the court fight arose after Mayor Eric Papenfuse recently ordered city police to enforce it to address resident concerns about gun violence.
The Commonwealth Court ruling allowed the FOAC suit to continue against ordinance regulations that:
• Bar anyone under 18 from carrying a gun in public unless they are accompanied by an adult.
• Prohibit the shooting of any guns by the public within the city for anything other than self-defense.
• Require gun owners to report to police any loss or theft of a gun within 48 hours of discovery.
• Ban guns from city parks.
The Commonwealth Court decision overturned a ruling by Dauphin County Judge Andrew H. Dowling, who found FOAC and its co-plaintiffs, a city resident and a commuter, lacked legal standing to bring the suit.
FOAC and other gun rights advocates have been challenging municipal firearms ordinances statewide on grounds that only the Legislature has the authority to set such limits.
Here’s the thing, though. Standing, as I understand it, basically means you’re impacted by the law and thus have grounds to sue. It doesn’t necessarily require that you be charged with a crime.
Telling someone they can’t legally carry a gun in city parks has an impact on every member of the public who carries guns and may wish to go to a city park. Now, I’m not an attorney, but it seems to me that this gives Firearm Owners Against Crime members from Harrisburg ample standing, for example.
People who are governed by laws and who have to change their behavior because of those laws are definitely impacted.
Of course, I’m not an attorney and I never played one on TV, so maybe I’m wrong here. Either way, it’s up to the state supreme court to make that determination, and it’s an important one. However, it’s not the most vital question. That question is whether Harrisburg actually has the authority to pass such laws, which they most certainly don’t.
Once the issue of standing is decided, then we can deal with that question. Assuming, of course, the court agrees with my assessment (or something similar). If so, I don’t think Harrisburg will like the outcome.