Pittsburgh, guns rights group spar over signs posted ahead of Monday rally
Call it a first shot in what is expected to be a lengthy and emotional battle over proposed gun regulations in Pittsburgh.
The city and gun rights groups butted heads Friday over signs put up this week warning City-County Building visitors that firearms are prohibited in the building in advance of a large gun rights rally planned for Monday.
Joshua Prince, an attorney representing The Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League and Firearm Owners Against Crime, contended the sandwich board warning signs were illegal under Pennsylvania law because they did not inform visitors that lockers are available for checking legal firearms.
The city responded Friday by adding more signs with information about the lockers, but one of the signs posted on a bulletin board outside the Ross Street entrance is partially obscured and visitors have to enter the building on Grant Street to see the notices.
Prince threatened to sue and described the city’s actions as “official oppression.” He said would ask Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.’s office to investigate.
“It seems interesting that now they’re trying to hide the signage,” Prince said.
Dan Gilman, Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, denied any subterfuge on the part of the city.
“Certainly not,” he said. “The city has every intention of complying with all of the applicable laws.”
Hundreds of activists openly carrying firearms are expected to protest a proposed ban on semiautomatic rifles and certain ammunition and firearms accessories within city limits. The rally is scheduled for noon Monday outside the City-County Building. The city posted Wednesday two sandwich board warning signs at building entrances in anticipation of the event.
Pittsburgh City Council introduced the ordinances last month in wake of a mass shooting on Oct. 27 at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue, in which 11 worshipers were killed by a man armed with an assault rifle.
The proposed ban drew an outcry from gun rights activists who argue that Pennsylvania law prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms. They said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has upheld the preemption in multiple cases, including a 10-year-old city ordinance that would require the reporting of lost or stolen handguns.
Pittsburgh police have never enforced the ordinance because of the preemption.
City Council has scheduled a public hearing on the ban for 6 p.m. on Jan. 24. The hearing will be held in council chambers on the fifth floor of the City-County Building. Council is expected to vote on the bills in February.
Officials said numerous police offices would be posted in and outside the City-County Building during the protest and Peduto said the city would consider closing Grant Street.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, email@example.com or via Twitter @bobbauder.