Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday devised a new tactic in its effort to ban assault rifles from within city limits by amending proposed firearms regulations to include the “use” of semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines in public.
Council members said adding the “use” element will bolster the city’s legal position on the contested measures, but gun advocates contend it represents a violation of constitutional rights.
The amendments also include provisions that make the ban effective effective only if the state Legislature passes enabling legislation or if Pennsylvania courts determine the ban is legal. The amendments passed by 6-0 vote.
“The ban is still in effect. It’s tied to state legislation or the state courts where we think we might be headed,” said Councilman Corey O’Connor, one of the prime sponsors. “We are now adding a section (on use) that we believe strengthens our capabilities of winning at that state level. This has never been tested before. This has never been challenged. We feel like we have a really strong case.”
Existing state law prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms, and gun advocates have vowed to sue the city if the bills pass.
“They certainly are trying to tap dance around the reality that what they’re doing is illegal,” said Kim Stolfer, president of the group Firearms Owners Against Crime. “The right to bear arms and the preemption law are inseparably intertwined, and the city, no matter how hard they try, cannot take any action in this field of law. What they’re doing is a deprivation of rights.”
Council members added language banning the “use” of assault weapons and certain accessories in public spaces, including streets, parks and public buildings. Homes and shooting ranges are exempt. . The amendment defines use as:
The ban would go into effect 60 days after passage.
Council also amended its so-called extreme risk bill, which would permit courts to seize a person’s guns if the person is deemed a threat to public safety. The amended version contains penalties for a gun owner if a child uses a gun owned by that person. The same definition of use would apply.
Exemptions include a child that gains access to a gun through a burglary or one secured by a lock box, trigger guard or similar device and a child using a gun in self defense.
The bill would go into effect 180 days after passage.
Councilwoman Erika Strassburger, the other prime sponsor, said council would also vote on a companion bill that would direct additional funding to city anti-violence programs and a Stop the Violence Initiative proposed by Councilmen R. Daniel Lavelle and Ricky Burgess.
Councilwomen Darlene Harris and Theresa Kail-Smith abstained from the gun legislation vote citing the state’s preemptive law, among other things.
Council postponed a preliminary vote on the gun bills until March 27.