Mayor Bill Peduto critical of DA’s letter challenging Pittsburgh’s proposed gun ban
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Tuesday said he was “highly offended” by a letter written by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. that questioned city council’s authority to enact a gun ban and advised council members they could face criminal charges if the legislation passes.
Peduto had not not previously addressed Zappala’s letter to Councilman Corey O’Connor, a sponsor of the proposed ban. He said the DA has no authority over city council.
“Why he wants to threaten council members with the potential of arrest if they would vote for a gun reform is beyond me,” Peduto said. “It doesn’t even make sense politically what he’s doing.
“You know what, I welcome him trying to put up a lawsuit that would arrest me if I sign this legislation. I would welcome that. It would be unprecedented. Simply because he doesn’t support gun reform or is somehow convinced that the gun lobby is so important to his election that he would threaten to arrest legislators who would support gun reform is astounding.”
Zappala spokesman Mike Manko said Peduto’s comments do not accurately reflect the letter’s content.
“The letter has no relation to politics or policy,” he said. “It is about process and legality. That said, this is not the first time that District Attorney Zappala has had to inform public officials that they were acting contrary to established law.”
Peduto and council proposed bills banning semi-automatic weapons and certain firearms accessories and ammunition after a mass shooting Oct. 27 at Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill, in which 11 worshipers were murdered. The bills have drawn wide criticism from gun activists, who have threatened to sue and seek criminal charges against council should they pass.
Zappala, who is running for re-election in 2019, cited a Pennsylvania law that prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms.
“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 wrote in the latter dated Jan. 9.
He wrote that he was certain upon passage of the ban that an Allegheny County resident would seek to file a private criminal complaint with his office alleging a violation of the law.
“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.
Peduto said Zappala was wrong to even suggest criminal charges could be filed and that he intends to push for the legislation despite the threat.
O’Connor last week said he was equally mystified by Zappala’s letter and that the city Law Department has said council has legislative immunity, protecting them from criminal charges. He said he and council would move forward with the legislation regardless.
Council has scheduled a public hearing on the bills starting at 6 p.m. Thursday in the City-County Building, Downtown.
“You don’t get arrested for doing something like that,” Peduto said.
The mayor said Zappala was correct that the Pennsylvania law supersedes any municipal legislation. While he declined to discuss the city’s legal strategy, Peduto said the city would challenge the law in court.
“Every single law that has made a change in this country came about by local government challenging the justice of that law,” he said. “I’m confident that we have a decent case to make that will not only ultimately be able to uphold what we’re trying to do but also change the discussions in Harrisburg and Washington.”
Peduto is traveling Thursday to Washington, D.C., for the United States Conference of Mayors’ annual winter meeting, where he will speak Friday about Pittsburgh’s gun bills. He said he has meetings scheduled with the mayors of Las Vegas, Orlando, Fla., and Parkland, Fla., where mass shootings have occurred.
“I’ll be speaking before two different committees on a national basis about the importance of what Pittsburgh is doing and why other cities need to join in as well,” he said. “I do believe that Pittsburgh has a responsibility after what happened on Oct. 27 and what happens every month in this city to be able to lessen gun violence, and part of that deals directly with guns.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @bobbauder.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, email@example.com or via Twitter .