A recent court decision in Pennsylvania has paved the way for what will likely be a drawn out and expensive series of court challenges regarding gun control laws passed by various municipalities. As the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action (NRAILA) reports, the state supreme court has largely invalidated a state law which discouraged local and municipal governments from passing nuisance gun control laws in defiance of state supremacy mandates.
In response to a recent Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling, several local Pennsylvania politicians announced their intent to enact or continue to enforce local gun control laws. These politicians are either seriously misinformed about the effect of the court’s ruling or they intend to knowingly violate Pennsylvania law because they think there will be little, if any, recourse to their actions.
The court’s ruling last week in Leach v. Commonwealth effectively voided Pennsylvania Act 192 (2014). Act 192 provided gun owners who challenge local ordinances with the opportunity to recover their costs, if their challenge is successful, and made it easier for organizations, like NRA, to sue in order to block enforcement of local gun control ordinances. The Leach decision simply held that Act 192 was not passed with proper procedure, so its provisions are not enforceable. The decision does not affect the legality of Pennsylvania’s long-standing firearms preemption law.
Pennsylvania Act 192 was an important piece of legislation in support of gun rights because of the nuts and bolts approach it took toward the protection of Second Amendment rights. For more than forty years, gun owners in the commonwealth have been protected by a state preemption law which forbids local and municipal governments from passing their own gun rights restrictions which exceed those of the state as a whole. That didn’t stop many of them from trying however, leading to lengthy and expensive lawsuits by gun owners and dealers who were forced to go to court to challenge the laws. Act 192 allowed the plaintiffs in these cases to sue the local and municipal governments passing such laws to recover their legal fees and other damages. This put the brakes on many ambitious, would be gun grabbers since they didn’t want to take the hit for covering those costs.
Now, with the financial penalties for attempting to go around the state supremacy laws at least temporarily removed, cities such as Philadelphia are eagerly looking forward to squashing their resident’s rights.
In a press release on the Supreme Court’s decision, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said “[t]his is a great victory for . . . the ability of local governments to adopt common sense gun regulations without fear of financially crippling litigation.” Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski went even further when he told a local news outlet of his plans to reintroduce an ordinance banning firearms in public buildings or parks. Allentown already had such a ban, but repealed it rather than defend the illegal ban in a lawsuit brought under the provisions of Act 192.
These opportunists reap multiple benefits from pushing through such illegal ordinances. They score political points with their liberal base and drain resources from gun owners and Second Amendment advocates by forcing them to fight the gun bans in court while the city can simply use taxpayer funded resources for their own court needs. Unless the legislature moves quickly to address the procedural concerns brought up by the state supreme court and get Act 192 back on the books, gun owners and businesses will be facing some hard times in Pennsylvania very soon.