Explore The NRA Universe Of Websites

Gun Bans: Court Reminds Local Governments They Lack Authority to Restrict Guns

Friday, December 23, 2016

Gun Bans: Court Reminds Local Governments They Lack Authority to Restrict Guns

Pennsylvania's Uniform Firearms Act (UFA), section 6120(a), directs that "[n]o county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms . . . ." 18 Pa. C.S. § 6120(a). 

The UFA rests on the legal concept of "preemption," in which a higher level of government – the state –expressly restricts the power or law-making authority it grants to its political subdivisions. This law, like similar laws in 45 states, was enacted to eliminate the inconsistent and confusing regulatory hodge-podge that results when each locality adopts its own “customized” regulations on guns, and serves to ensure that the firearm laws remain uniform across a state. Previous court cases interpreting Pennsylvania’s law – including a lawsuit brought by the NRA against the City of Philadelphia – have invalidated local gun-control measures including prohibitions on the possession, transfer and sale of "assault weapons."

Despite this and the clear language of the UFA, in 2011, Lower Merion Township in Pennsylvania adopted an ordinance, Code § 109-16. The ordinance, allegedly based on the need to enhance the safety of Township residents and the public’s use and enjoyment of local parks, prohibited persons from “carry[ing] or discharg[ing] firearms of any kind in a park without a special permit, unless exempted,” and punished violators with a penalty of up to $600.00 for each violation. The only exemption applied to “authorized members of the Police Department.”

A group, Firearm Owners Against Crime (FOAC), initially approached the Township to repeal the ordinance, based on state preemption. The Township declined, relying on its rights as a property owner and claiming the ordinance was consistent with the UFA preemption language because it only prohibited the unlawful possession of firearms in parks, allowing for possession with a “special permit.”

In the ensuing litigation challenging the validity of the ordinance, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, in a 2-1 decision, reversed a 2015 trial court decision and enjoined enforcement of the ordinance. Firearm Owners Against Crime v. Lower Merion Township, No. 1693 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Commw. Ct. Dec. 16, 2016). 

The court rejected the claim that the ordinance was within the authority of a municipality regulating the use of its own property. The underlying basis for the ordinance was the Township’s police power, not proprietary rights, because the ordinance imposed a criminal penalty and authorized officers to enforce the ordinance by removing and prosecuting violators. More generally, the UFA explicitly prohibited a township from regulating firearms “in any manner,” without an exemption that would authorize the township to make rules for its park property.

The court also gave short shrift to the claim that the UFA did not preempt a municipality’s regulation of unlawful firearm possession. Earlier court precedent on the preemption law “prohibits this Court from endorsing the argument that a cognizable distinction exists between regulating lawful activity and unlawful activity.” Even assuming otherwise, the ordinance did not come within the supposed exception. It regulated possession that was not already unlawful under state law – there was “no corresponding provision in the Crimes Code that contained such a blanket ban of firearm possession in a park” – and the Township could not create its own class of unlawful conduct with which to justify the ordinance.

The ordinance was not consistent with the UFA, and “because there are no apparently reasonable grounds for the trial court’s decision,” the Commonwealth Court reversed the lower court ruling. The upshot is that in Pennsylvania, the General Assembly, not municipal councils, is the proper forum for the imposition of firearm regulations.

TRENDING NOW
“[A]ll We Need You to Do is Give us the Gun”: U.K. Launches National Firearm Surrender Campaign

News  

Monday, May 23, 2022

“[A]ll We Need You to Do is Give us the Gun”: U.K. Launches National Firearm Surrender Campaign

On March 12, a two-week campaign was launched in the United Kingdom to encourage subjects of Her Majesty the Queen to surrender firearms, ammunition, weapons, and any other object even vaguely reminiscent of a gun ...

President Donald J. Trump to Address NRA Members at the 2022 NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Houston, Texas

News  

Thursday, May 12, 2022

President Donald J. Trump to Address NRA Members at the 2022 NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Houston, Texas

Former President Donald J. Trump will headline the 2022 NRA-ILA Leadership Forum on May 27, at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston.

Choke Point “Lite”

News  

Monday, May 23, 2022

Choke Point “Lite”

Ten years ago, the Obama Administration introduced “Operation Choke Point,” a program to weaponize the banking industry and financial service providers against certain lawful businesses and merchants. Implemented by Eric Holder’s Department of Justice and ...

ATF Partners with Anti-gun Researchers to Expand Agency’s Power

News  

Monday, May 23, 2022

ATF Partners with Anti-gun Researchers to Expand Agency’s Power

On May 17, the Department of Justice announced the release of a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives publication titled the National Firearms in Commerce and Trafficking Assessment (NFCTA). The report is the result of the ...

NRA Achieves Historical Milestone as 25 States Recognize Constitutional Carry

News  

Friday, April 1, 2022

NRA Achieves Historical Milestone as 25 States Recognize Constitutional Carry

Half the country will now enjoy the freedom to carry a handgun for self-defense without a permit from the state thanks to the tireless efforts of men and women of the National Rifle Association. 

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

Gun Laws  

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Guide To The Interstate Transportation Of Firearms

CAUTION: Federal and state firearms laws are subject to frequent change. This summary is not to be considered as legal advice or a restatement of law.

New Jersey: “Mandatory Jail” Bill Scheduled for Senate Hearing Thursday

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

New Jersey: “Mandatory Jail” Bill Scheduled for Senate Hearing Thursday

Tomorrow at 10:00 a.m., the Senate Law & Public Safety Committee is scheduled to consider S.513, legislation which would create a rebuttable presumption of no bail for gun offenses.

NRA Statement Ahead of 2022 NRAAM

News  

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

NRA Statement Ahead of 2022 NRAAM

The National Rifle Association released the following statement on Wednesday, May 25

Hunter Biden Incident Shows that Gun Laws are for the Little People

News  

Monday, April 5, 2021

Hunter Biden Incident Shows that Gun Laws are for the Little People

There is a central hypocrisy at the heart of the gun control effort.

California: Anti-Gun Bills Eligible for Floor Votes

Saturday, May 21, 2022

California: Anti-Gun Bills Eligible for Floor Votes

On Thursday, both the Assembly and Senate Appropriations Committees took up their suspense files prior to the fiscal deadline, passing a number of anti-gun bills and one pro-hunting bill. These bills will now be eligible ...

MORE TRENDING +
LESS TRENDING -

More Like This From Around The NRA

NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.