Pittsburgh agrees to postpone gun ban enforcement
Pittsburgh won’t enforce a package of controversial gun bills approved last month by City Council until it resolves several lawsuits filed in opposition to the ordinances.
Two gun rights groups — Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League and Firearm Owners Against Crime — and three individuals have filed three lawsuits contending the bills are illegal and seeking contempt charges against Mayor Bill Peduto and six council members who voted in favor of the bills.
Attorneys for the city and plaintiffs met Monday morning in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas for a status conference before senior Judge Joseph James. The city agreed to forgo enforcement of bills until the lawsuits are settled.
“They’ve agreed to a stay of the implementation and enforcement of the ordinances and Judge James has issued an order staying it consistent with that agreement,” said Joshua Prince, an attorney representing the two organizations.
The legislation consists of three bills. One would ban possession and use of certain semiautomatic weapons, including assault rifles. A second would ban the use of ammunition and accessories, such as large capacity magazines capable of holding 10 rounds or more of ammunition. A third bill, dubbed “extreme risk protection,” would permit courts to temporarily remove guns from a person deemed to be a public threat.
City residents who currently own guns and accessories outlined in the bills would be grandfathered. Violators would face a civil penalty that carries a $1,000 fine, or up to 90 days in prison, for each offense.
The city is being represented at no charge by attorneys from Everytown for Gun Safety, an organization that advocates against gun violence, along with its Law Department. The Pittsburgh firm of Carlson Lynch is also supplying an attorney free of charge.
“We are here because the city has passed ordinances that we believe advance the cause of gun safety (and) will prevent future gun violence, and we are here to defend those laws on behalf of the city,” said Eric Tirschwell, litigation director for Everytown for Gun Safety.
Lawyers representing the gun owners argued that the Everytown attorneys could be called as witnesses because of emails they exchanged with the city prior to their official involvement in the lawsuits. They argued that the attorneys should be prohibited from representing the city because of that and a potential cost to taxpayers.
James denied the request.
“It’s not unusual for the city to use lawyers in areas of expertise,” he said. “They do it on a regular basis.”
Firearm Owners Against Crime is raffling off a flamethrower to help pay its legal fees, according to its website. Tickets are $10 apiece and the drawing is May 31.
“… All proceeds will be used to defeat the illegal gun control laws enacted by the city of Pittsburgh in defiance of Pennsylvania law,” the site says.
Prince speculated that lawyers would argue the case in September or October and James could issue a decision by December.
“This morning in the shower, I was optimistic that we could expedite this and get a decision this summer,” the judge said. “That doesn’t seem to be the direction this is going.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .