On June 20, 2016, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled unanimously against a law, ACT 192, that allowed gun owners and outside organizations to sue local municipalities for their gun-control rules, whether or not they had been directly affected or harmed by them, and force those municipalities to pay attorney fees.
Local governments will now be able to pursue gun regulations of their own making. Some cities are gearing up in advance of upcoming council meetings to reintroduce firearms ordinances that they rescinded because of their concerns about costs of litigation enabled by Act 192.
In the wake of the Supreme Court’s ruling, Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski wants the municipality to reinstate the firearms ordinance repealed by the city, one of about 100 local governments to do so in recent years.
The state Supreme Court upheld a decision made last year by the Commonwealth Court to overturn the law for violating the state constitution.
The reasoning behind the ruling was based more on a procedural aspect of the bill’s enactment than on the substance of the law itself. The gun provision was added as a riderto a bill that involved criminalizing the theft of metals – which conflicted with the constitutional requirement that bills must deal with one subject and one subject only.
Philadelphia, Lancaster and Pittsburgh, as well as five Democratic legislators, sued state legislators in Commonwealth Court in 2014 on the grounds that Act 192 was unconstitutional. After the law took effect in January 2015, the NRA sued all three cities over their local gun laws.
The suits could now be dismissed.
But all is not lost to those advocating gun rights.
A bill moving in the state legislature would reinstate the firearms law struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Senate Bill 1330 mirrors Act 192.
The new measure asserts any gun owner or advocacy group has standing to file a lawsuit against a municipality, over firearms ordinances that depart from state statute, and recoup related legal expenses.
It doesn’t matter if someone is harmed or merely cited under the ordinance. If the potential’s there, so is the standing to sue, according to the legislation sponsored by state Sen. Richard Alloway, R-Adams.
Successful plaintiffs also would be entitled to a monetary award, even if a local government were to rescind its ordinance after getting hit with a lawsuit.
The point is to establish consistency across municipalities, Alloway wrote in his co-sponsorship memo.
Senate Bill 1330 is up for second consideration before the state Senate after clearing the chamber’s Local Government Committee with an 8-3 vote on June 27, 2016.
We will continue to monitor this legislation.