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Gun groups sue Pittsburgh, other cities over gun regulations

| Wednesday, Jan. 14, 2015, 3:53 p.m.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Wednesday fired back at the National Rifle Association, vowing a court battle to overturn a new state law that makes it easier for gun owners to sue and recoup court costs over gun-control regulations.

The NRA on Wednesday announced it is suing Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Lancaster because the cities have “openly defied” a 40-year-old state law forbidding municipalities from regulating firearms.

Peduto said the city “will not be deterred” by the NRA lawsuit. He said the local regulations are a sensible way to address deadly gun violence.

“We're not taking away anyone's right to own a gun,” he said. “We're not taking away anyone's right to own 10 guns. What we're saying is when that gun is lost or stolen, you've got to report it.”

As a councilman in 2008, Peduto sponsored a city ordinance requiring owners to report lost or stolen handguns to police, but officers haven't enforced it because of superseding state law.

Pennsylvania has long barred its municipalities from approving ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition.

Kim Stolfer, president of Firearm Owners Against Crime, a statewide group of 78,000 members with 20,000 in Southwestern Pennsylvania, said Pittsburgh's law is illegal.

Stolfer of South Fayette said he helped fashion a state law that took effect last week in which gun owners no longer have to show they have been hurt by an ordinance to win in court. The law allows organizations like the NRA to sue. Successful challengers can seek legal fees and other costs.

“What we have is 40 years of violations by Pittsburgh, Philly and other communities that are actual crimes like rape that haven't been enforced,” he said. “People like Peduto and the rest of these guys, they think that they're above the law.”

Peduto said the ordinance was intended to help police solve gun crimes.

“When we go to find where that gun came from and why that felon was able to have a gun, the person tells us, ‘Oh, it was lost. Oh, it was stolen,' and they have a get-out-of-jail-free card every time,” he said. “We're trying to close that loophole.”

The NRA in 2009 sued Pittsburgh over the ordinance, but an Allegheny County Court judge upheld it. State appellate courts agreed with the decision.

Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster are fighting the new law in court, contending lawmakers didn't follow constitutional procedure.

“It's unconstitutional. It should never have been passed,” Peduto said, vowing to press the city's lawsuit. “It breaks with 200 years of history in Pennsylvania where organizations without standing now have standing (to sue).”

As of Thursday morning, the lawsuit was on file with the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas. The Allegheny County District Attorney's Office declined to comment.

The NRA plans to go after other municipalities whose gun ordinances are barred by state law, said the group's attorney, Jonathan Goldstein. Another group, Houston-based U.S. Law Shield, sued Harrisburg on Tuesday over its gun laws.

Under threat of litigation, more than 20 Pennsylvania municipalities have moved to repeal their firearms ordinances. Peduto said Pittsburgh would not be one of them.

“I think that repealing it would set in motion the acceptance that the constitution of Pennsylvania can be thrown away when special interests are powerful enough to get enough votes,” he said.

Staff writer Adam Brandolph and The Associated Press contributed. Bob Bauder is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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