A bill aimed at deterring localities from enacting their own municipal firearms ordinances by hitting them where it hurts most, their wallets, has passed the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee.
House Bill 1523, which was sponsored by state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a western Pennsylvania Republican, passed the committee Monday on a 19-4 vote, according to the Pennsylvania Firearms Owners Against Crime, a Second Amendment advocacy group, which monitors gun legislation.
Two committee members did not vote.
“This has been long overdue,” a man identified as Edgar Stephan wrote on FOAC’s Facebook page in response to the committee vote. “Some of us have spent thousands of dollars in court costs fighting townships, boroughs and cities for simply exercising a right guaranteed under the Pennsylvania Constitution.
“Some have gone to jail or have paid excessive fines because they could not afford the cost of legal representation,” Stephan continued. “This will level the field as these townships, boroughs and cities are using our money to persecute law-abiding citizens.”
The bill would provide for the awarding of civil damages in cases where citizens had to challenge local gun ordinances.
Despite the fact that municipalities are preempted by state law from crafting their own gun legislation, many localities have done just that, causing some citizens to have to go to court to fight charges of, say, possessing a gun in a county or municipal park, or other places that wouldn’t be prohibited under state law, but that have been termed off-limits by municipal and county officials.
In an October 2011 interview with the Pennsylvania Record, Metcalfe, the bill’s primary sponsor, said the intent behind the legislation was to discourage what he termed “rogue local governments” from passing laws they know are unenforceable.
“This legislation is being advanced to protect the rights of the individual law-abiding citizen,” Metcalfe said at the time.
Metcalfe said it’s not right for a citizen to have to go to court to fight a law that may have gotten him or her into trouble, but one that shouldn’t have been passed from the get-go.
Regardless of the state’s preemption statute with regard to the ownership and transportation of firearms, some municipalities, Philadelphia in particular, have been “thumbing their noses at the laws,” Metcalfe previously said.
An example of one such local ordinance given by the state representative would be Philadelphia’s prohibition on carrying a firearm using a license from another state – regardless of the fact that the other state in question may have what is known as a reciprocity agreement with Pennsylvania as far as gun licenses are concerned.
Philadelphia City Council last year passed a bill to close the so-called “Florida Loophole,” which allows Pennsylvanians to obtain concealed carry permits from the Sunshine State.
City officials argue that people who shouldn’t be getting carry licenses are obtaining them from Florida regardless of the input of local law enforcement.
Gun rights advocates insist there is no so-called “loophole,” pointing out that state legislation has given the Pennsylvania attorney general the ability to enter into reciprocity agreements with attorneys general in other states.
Second Amendment advocates have been using the Philadelphia ordinance banning the carrying of firearms on out-of-state licenses as an example of a local ordinance that flies in the face of established state law.
That ordinance in particular has drawn the ire of not only Second Amendment activists, but area civil rights attorneys as well.
Philadelphia lawyer Jonathan Goldstein told the Pennsylvania Record during a recent lengthy interview that the city’s ordinance banning the carrying of guns on licenses recognized by the state is “totally illegal and without the force of law.”
Goldstein, who specializes in Pennsylvania firearm laws, said the issue should not be looked at purely as a gun issue, but rather from a civil rights perspective.
“Substitute for firearms the word ‘voting,’ or the word ‘worshipping,’” he said. “You would have people marching in the streets.”
If the Philadelphia ordinance were ever upheld, and a citizen was arrested for carrying his or her gun on a reciprocal states’ license, Goldstein envisions a major court battle on the city’s hands, similar to the one that occurred in the 1990s over Philadelphia’s so-called “assault weapons” ban. The city lost that battle.
“It seems to me that their course of conduct as they pass these things, as they instruct their police department to seize firearms from people without cause … all of these things to me seem to be a systematic effort to attack the civil rights of Philadelphians,” he said.
Asked if he would consider representing someone who ends up being wrongfully arrested for violating the city law, Goldstein answered without a doubt.
“All I need is a plaintiff,” he said. “And I know several lawyers in the region who feel the same way.”
Philadelphia officials disputed that they were violating state law in enacting the ordinance banning out-of-state carry licenses within city limits.
“We believe that it is fully consistent with state law and is not preempted by state law,” Richie Feder, chief deputy for appeals and legislation in the city Solicitors Office, previously told the Pennsylvania Record.
H.B. 1523 now goes to the full House for a floor vote.