The National Rifle Association and its supporters wasted no time Tuesday suing Pittsburgh, City Council and Mayor Bill Peduto following the mayor’s signing of three bills restricting military-style weapons within city limits.
Four city residents with assistance from the NRA filed the lawsuit in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court less than three hours after the mayor signed the gun ordinances into law. Other local gun owners vowed to file criminal charges Friday against the mayor and council.
Peduto anticipated the legal challenges. He announced that the city would be represented at no cost in the civil suit by a legal team from the nonprofit gun control organization Everytown for Gun Safety, founded and funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
He said he and six council members who voted in favor of the ban have also retained an attorney for criminal defense. He would not name the attorney.
“The very concept that the state could create a law that would say that elected officials who challenge the validity of that law would somehow be held to criminal charges goes against everything and every proactive step forward that this country has taken,” Peduto said. “What we’re going to do is we’re going to overturn this law.”
Laurence J. Anderson, Scott Miller, Robert R. Opdyke and Michael A. Whitehouse contend in the lawsuit that the city is violating a state law prohibiting municipalities from regulating firearms by banning the use of weapons with magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The suit contends that guns come standard with magazines of that size.
They are seeking a permanent injunction to stop the city from enforcing the ban, which takes effect in 60 days, and reimbursement for legal fees.
“Pittsburgh’s ban on carrying loaded standard capacity magazines in public has a chilling effect on Plaintiffs’ exercise of their right under Pennsylvania law to possess these magazines and to carry them in public for self defense,” the lawsuit said.
The mayor signed the bills in his conference room surrounded by supporters of the restrictions, including survivors and relatives of those killed during the October mass shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill. The observers gave Peduto a standing ovation.
“We’re still hurting,” said Lynette Lederman, former president of the Tree of Life congregation, and a staffer for City Councilman Corey O’Connor. “The personal trauma that me as former president of Tree of Life and my friends and the leadership of Tree of Life has experienced has kind of reached a watershed moment today. I’m very proud of Mayor Peduto.”
O’Connor and Councilwoman Erika Strassburger, who represent Squirrel Hill and proposed the bills, described Tree of Life as a “tipping point” in discussions over how to stop gun violence in the city.
The legislation consists of three bills. One would ban the possession and use of certain semiautomatic weapons, including assault rifles. A second would ban ammunition and accessories, such as large- capacity magazines. A third bill, dubbed “extreme risk protection,” would permit courts to temporarily remove guns from a person deemed to be a public threat and impose penalties on an adult who allows a child to access a gun illegally.
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.
Council approved the bills last week in a 6-3 vote. Three council members — Darlene Harris, Theresa Kail-Smith and Anthony Coghill — who voted against the legislation, were absent during the signing ceremony.
O’Connor said council is prepared for the court battle.
“I think everybody here said basically bring it on because we’re doing the right thing,” he said. “We’re willing to fight for our residents and I don’t think anybody is going to stop us.”