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Pennsylvania Court Blocks Challenges to Local Gun Laws; NRA Plans Appeal

Friday, June 25, 2010

On June 25, a three-judge panel of Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court issued a ruling that makes it harder for gun owners to challenge local gun laws that were passed in violation of the state’s firearm preemption law.  This was the second such ruling in just over a year.

Pennsylvania’s preemption law, like the laws in 47 other states, is supposed to stop cities, counties and towns from passing a patchwork of inconsistent laws that might trip up gun owners who travel or relocate within the state.  But an increasing number of local governments have recently pushed beyond its limits.

The June 25 decision involved a Pittsburgh ordinance that makes it a crime not to report the loss or theft of a firearm to law enforcement officials.  NRA opposed the ordinance, not just because it could allow the government to victimize a person who’s already suffered a serious crime, but also because the city had no authority to pass it in the first place.

The court didn’t get to that issue, however.  Instead, it found that the plaintiffs—Pittsburgh gun owners who live in areas where residential burglaries are common—had no standing to sue, because they had suffered no “direct and immediate harm.”  According to the opinion by President Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter, the possibility of a plaintiff having his or her gun stolen and being fined for not reporting the theft is “remote and speculative.”

That was the same reasoning that was used to reject an earlier challenge to a similar law in Philadelphia, but in the Pittsburgh case it drew a strong dissent from Judge P. Kevin Brobson.  Judge Brobson argued that the ruling makes it impossible for a citizen to challenge a law unless he or she is willing to go to court and either admit to violating the law, or promise to violate the law in the future.  As Judge Brobson put it, the only way to bring an effective challenge “would be willful noncompliance with a criminal ordinance.  This is no option at all.”

NRA agrees, and plans to seek a review of this decision by the full Commonwealth Court.  Beyond that, NRA will take whatever steps are necessary to change state preemption laws—either through the courts or through the legislature, in Pennsylvania and anywhere else—to protect gun owners’ rights from schemes by anti-gun local politicians.

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