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Pa. Supreme Court ends lawsuits over local gun ordinances

Bob Bauder
| Monday, June 20, 2016, 7:15 p.m.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday killed a provision in state law permitting gun rights groups to sue municipalities such as Pittsburgh over local firearms ordinances and recoup court costs.

Judges in a unanimous decision agreed with a 2015 Commonwealth Court ruling that the law was unconstitutional because it violates a constitutional provision requiring state legislation to be about a single subject. The firearms law was tacked onto another bill stiffening penalties for theft of scrap metal passed in the last days of the 2014 legislative session.

Mayor Bill Peduto lauded the court for its decision.

A South Fayette man said the gun owners group he represents is prepared to submit legislation for consideration.

“This was expected,” Kim Stolfer, president of the group Firearms Owners Against Crime. “We're all ready to go with another effort to fix this. It's going to be a stand-alone bill. It's not going to be added onto something that would set the stage for this type of a challenge.”

In 2008, then-Councilman Peduto sponsored a city ordinance requiring owners to report lost or stolen handguns to police. He has since argued that many guns used in violent city crimes were lost or stolen.

Pittsburgh police have never enforced the ordinance because of superseding state law that prohibits municipalities from enacting gun regulations.

Stolfer said the National Rifle Association and Firearms Owners Against Crime sued because district attorneys across the state, including Allegheny County's, were not enforcing the state ban on local ordinances. The NRA could not be reached for comment.

In an opinion written by Chief Justice Thomas G. Saylor, the Supreme Court ruled that it agreed “in all material respects with the Commonwealth Court” that a gun law provision could not be combined with a law covering theft of scrap metal.

“As the Commonwealth Court suggested, creating a civil cause of action for persons affected by local gun regulations is simply too far afield from the definition of new offenses relating to the theft of secondary metal to be considered part of one subject...” Saylor wrote.

Peduto said the law was an attempt “to use a back door to try and pass a law that's unconstitutional.”

He predicted Gov. Tom Wolf would veto new legislation.

“It's good to know we have a governor who stands with the people of Pennsylvania and not with the gun manufacturers lobby,” the mayor said. “That will be vetoed, just like this, and thrown into the trash heap of unconstitutional laws.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-765-2312 or bbauder@tribweb.com.

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