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Pittsburgh Mayor Declares Intent to Ban Guns in Violation of State Law

Friday, December 14, 2018

Pittsburgh Mayor Declares Intent to Ban Guns in Violation of State Law

Yesterday, we reported that it was likely that sweeping gun control measures would be proposed in Pittsburgh. Today, Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto held a press conference to propose a trio of anti-gun city ordinances that, if enacted, would constitute a direct violation of Pennsylvania’s state firearms preemption law and Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent. At the event, Peduto was joined by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, who benefitted from $500,000 in spending from Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety during his 2018 re-election bid, and City Council members Corey O’Connor and Erika Strassburger.

Not content to spearhead his own city’s violation of state law, Peduto called for municipalities throughout the country to ignore state statutes duly enacted by their residents’ elected representatives. A press release from the mayor’s office chronicling the conference explained, “Mayor Peduto has asked cities around the country to support Pittsburgh’s measures and/or introduce similar legislation to create nationwide momentum behind the critically needed gun changes.”

Councilmember O’Connor, who purportedly authored the anti-gun proposals, took a similar tack, stating that Pittsburgh “must seize the opportunity to make a real difference by partnering with other municipalities in the Commonwealth and cities across America to enact” gun restrictions. Councilmember Strassburger also encouraged the municipal lawlessness, stating, “I hope more cities across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the entire nation will join Pittsburgh in this critical effort.”

The three legislative proposals are a total ban on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms, a total ban on several types of common firearms accessories and standard capacity magazines, and the development of a procedure to confiscate an individual’s firearms without due process of law.

Under the proposed semi-automatic ban, it would be “unlawful to manufacture, sell, purchase, transport, carry, store, or otherwise hold in one’s possession” a firearm defined as an “assault weapon.”

The legislation defines “assault weapon” by listing several models of commonly owned semi-automatic firearms, including the Colt AR-15 and certain configurations of the Ruger Mini-14. Moreover, the legislation goes on to add to the definition of “assault weapon” semi-automatic rifles, pistols, and shotguns that meet a certain set of criteria.

The prohibition criteria for rifles is the following:

                a. The firearm is a semiautomatic rifle that has an ability to accept a detachable

magazine and has at least two of the following:

i. A folding or telescoping stock;

ii. A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the

weapon;

iii. A bayonet mount;

iv. A flash suppressor or threaded barrel designed to accommodate a flash

suppressor; and

v. A grenade launcher;

Pistols would be judged under the following criteria:

                b. The firearm is a semiautomatic pistol that has an ability to accept a detachable

magazine and has at least two of the following:

i. An ammunition magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol

grip;

ii. A threaded barrel capable of accepting a barrel extender, flash

suppressor, forward handgrip or silencer;

iii. A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the

barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the firearm with the non-trigger

hand without being burned;

iv. A manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is

unloaded; and

v. A semiautomatic version of an automatic firearm;

The following shotguns would banned:

                c. The firearm is a semiautomatic shotgun that has at least two of the following:

i. A folding or telescoping stock;

ii. A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the

weapon;

iii. A fixed magazine capacity in excess of five rounds; and

iv. An ability to accept a detachable magazine;

The legislation would also prohibit the possession of machine guns lawfully registered under the National Firearms Act.

The legislative proposal targeting common firearms accessories would ban the possession of firearms magazines “that [have] the capacity of, or can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition.” The ordinance would also ban any semi-automatic centerfire rifle that can accept a detachable magazine and is equipped with either a pistol grip, thumbhole stock, folding or telescoping stock, or a forward pistol grip (among other items).

Both pieces of legislation impose severe penalties on those who refuse to submit to the city’s unlawful mandates. Those who do not comply “shall be fined $1,000 and costs for each offense, and in default of payment thereof, may be imprisoned for not more than 90 days.” Moreover, the proposals provide that “[e]ach day of a continuing violation of or failure to comply… shall constitute and separate and distinct offense.” Meaning that otherwise law-abiding individuals who fail to comply with the ordinances would face potential financial ruin.

The final proposal would empower law enforcement to search for and confiscate an individual’s firearms without due process. Acting on merely a petition offered by a law enforcement official or family or household member a court could issue an order for an individual’s firearms to be seized. The individual would have no opportunity to speak or present evidence on their own behalf prior to confiscation.

The Pennsylvania General Assembly has made clear that firearms laws are a state matter and that it is unlawful for the state’s political subdivisions to regulate firearms. 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6120, concerning the “Limitation on the regulation of firearms and ammunition,” 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 or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.

The language of the statute is crystal clear. Municipalities like Pittsburgh may not pass their own firearms regulations.

However, the simple statute wasn’t simple enough for the reading challenged lawmakers of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

In the 1996 case Ortiz v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania settled the question as to whether Pittsburgh and Philadelphia could restrict commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms. In finding that they could not, the court stated,

Because the ownership of firearms is constitutionally protected, its regulation is a matter of statewide concern. The constitution does not provide that the right to bear arms shall not be questioned in any part of the commonwealth except Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where it may be abridged at will, but that it shall not be questioned in any part of the commonwealth. Thus, regulation of firearms is a matter of concern in all of Pennsylvania, not merely in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the General Assembly, not city councils, is the proper forum for the imposition of such regulation.

Another portion of the opinion described Pittsburgh’s position as “frivolous.”

In the 2009 case National Rifle Association v. Philadelphia, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania came to the same conclusion after Philadelphia ignored the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s 1996 ruling and enacted a ban on commonly-owned firearms and a lost or stolen reporting ordinance. Citing Pennsylvania’s firearms preemption statute and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania’s decision in Ortiz, the Commonwealth Court struck down the local firearms ordinances. Philadelphia appealed the case to the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania and was denied.

In pursuing their local gun control ordinances, Peduto and his anti-gun allies have demonstrated an extraordinary indifference to state law, judicial precedents, and the taxpaying constituents who will foot the bill for this political grandstanding. NRA stands ready to use all available legal avenues to ensure that the residents of Pittsburgh are never subject to these unconstitutional and unlawful proposals.

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