Recent court ruling bodes well for Pittsburgh’s controversial gun bills, officials say
Last week’s Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision upholding Pittsburgh’s paid sick leave ordinance provided some hope that the justices could rule in the city’s favor if called on to decide its controversial firearms regulations, officials said.
Justices were split 4-3 in allowing the paid sick leave ordinance to stand. Four of the seven-member court’s five Democrats voted to uphold the ordinance. Justice Max Baer, a Democrat, joined the court’s two Republicans — Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor and Justice Sallie Mundy — in dissenting.
The city will begin enforcing the ordinance 90 days after developing a plan to enforce it.
“Obviously there’s hope if you win the one tough battle that you can win another,” said Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor, a sponsor of the gun and paid sick leave ordinances. “Who knows. We’ve now been pleasantly surprised, and you never know when it comes to the (gun bills).”
City Council in April passed a package of controversial gun laws prohibiting the use of certain semiautomatic weapons, ammunition and accessories within city limits. It included a bill dubbed “extreme risk protection” permitting courts to seize guns from a person considered by police or relatives to be a public threat.
Two gun-rights groups — Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League and Firearm Owners Against Crime — and three individuals responded with three lawsuits contending the bills are illegal and seeking contempt charges against Mayor Bill Peduto and six council members, including O’Connor, who voted in favor of the bills.
Peduto said the paid sick leave and gun ordinances were similar in offering protections for residents , but he wasn’t ready to predict the gun legislation would survive a court challenge.
“We’ll see, but that’s a different battle and one that will probably, like I said from the very beginning, work its way up to the Supreme Court,” Peduto said.
Pittsburgh has suspended enforcement of the legislation until the lawsuits are resolved.
G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, said the current Supreme Court makeup could favor the city.
“I’m not predicting that, but given the current Supreme Court they might have a better chance at getting that passed,” he said, noting that state and federal courts have become more polarized in recent years. “The courts to some extent they’ve always been ideological, and they’ve become more ideological because the country has become more ideological.”
O’Connor of Swisshelm Park said he was surprised that the city won the sick leave case given that courts have consistently ruled the city’s Home Rule Charter prohibited it from regulating private business. The state Supreme Court previously shot down a city ordinance requiring gun owners to report a lost or stolen handgun to police.
Second Amendment advocates said they’re confident the court also would rule against the most recent firearms regulations.
Attorney Josh Prince, who represents Firearm Owners Against Crime, said the court has consistently ruled that only the Pennsylvania General Assembly can regulate firearms. He said Pittsburgh is precluded from regulating guns under the Pennsylvania Crimes Code and the state Constitution.
“I really don’t see that (the paid sick leave case) has any bearing whatsoever in the litigation regarding firearms and the extreme risk protection order,” Prince said. “They are specifically proscribed from being able to regulate firearms and ammunition.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter .