Pittsburgh council members could face charges over gun restrictions, DA says
Pittsburgh City Council’s proposed gun legislation might be unconstitutional and could result in criminal charges against members of council, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. said in a letter to the councilman who introduced the bills.
The legislation, proposed last month by Councilman Corey O’Connor, would ban semi-automatic rifles and certain ammunition and firearms accessories within city limits.
O’Connor said the Law Department has said council has legislative immunity, protecting them from any criminal charges. He said he and council will move forward with the legislation regardless.
“We have every right to fight for our constituents, and that’s what we believe we’re doing,” O’Connor said. “Nothing is going to stop us at this point. We said we want to see action on gun control, and we’re going to do it.”
Zappala alluded to the fact that passing such legislation could result in criminal charges against council members, referring to a Pennsylvania law that states, “No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried for transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.”
“While I certainly see the desire for such type of legislation at the state and federal levels, I believe that city council does not have the authority to pass such legislation,” Zappala said in a letter dated Jan. 9 and posted to his office’s Twitter account Tuesday.
He cited previous failed efforts undertaken by former Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s administration, as well as case law regarding the issue.
“I am certain that you have sought the legal advice of your law department as to whether (state law) would permit a criminal complaint to be filed against an individual member of council who violates (state law) by voting to adopt these regulations,” Zappala wrote.
“Likewise,” he wrote, “I am sure you have discussed the due process implications of enacting any legislation reviewed by your law department and found to be unconstitutional.”
He continued in the same vein: “I am also certain that you realize that if such legislation passes, there is sure to be a resident of Allegheny County who seeks to file a private criminal complaint alleging a violation of (state law).”
Zappala said those are all issues that would come before his office, noting that his letter was “not intended to express my opinion” on the legislation.
“I mention the matters just to ensure their consideration by you and council,” he wrote.
Gun activists from across the region and beyond descended on the City-County Building on Jan. 7 in armed protest against the proposed legislation.
Mayor Bill Peduto, Gov. Tom Wolf and other lawmakers cited the Oct. 27 mass shooting at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue when announcing the bills. Peduto vowed to build a coalition among municipalities and residents to fend off legal challenges from gun rights activists.
State Rep. Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill said during the announcement he would propose legislation to abolish the state law that prohibits such gun control legislation.
Tim McNulty, spokesman for the mayor’s office, said only that “the city is not sharing its legal strategy on these bills.”
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, email@example.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.
Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .