Pa. senator joins House counterpart in pushing legislation awarding legal fees in challenges to 'illegal' local gun ordinances

By Jon Campisi | Apr 29, 2013

After his counterpart in the state House unsuccessfully attempted to get a similar

measure passed through the General Assembly during the last legislative session, another lawmaker has eyed making local governments pay for enacting unenforceable gun laws – literally.

Sen. Richard Alloway, a Republican covering parts of Adams, Franklin and York Counties, announced on April 23 his recent introduction of Senate Bill 876, which is designed to hold municipalities financially accountable for passing local laws that are more restrictive than the firearms regulations under the state’s Uniform Firearms Act.

While it is already illegal for cities, townships, boroughs and counties to regulate the possession, transfer and transportation of guns, many have done just that, and continue to do so, leading to “violators” having to flesh out their legal troubles in court, often a costly endeavor.

Alloway’s bill would allow a person who is adversely affected by illegally passed restrictive local gun ordinances to seek damages from the municipality to cover court costs, legal fees and other damages.

“Current law offers a layer of protection for law-abiding gun owners from a legal standpoint, but not from a financial perspective,” Alloway said in a statement. “If a municipality passes an ordinance that directly contradicts state law, then citizens who are unfairly targeted by these local restrictions should be given some form of financial recourse.”

The senator said it’s not reasonable for Pennsylvanians to have to memorize “every local law relating to firearms in every municipality,” and that if restrictions were allowed to vary from one jurisdiction to another, it would place gun owners in danger of unknowingly breaking laws that “shouldn’t even exist.”

The senator’s bill was referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee on April 24, records show.

In a memo to his colleagues back in late February, Alloway said his measure is designed to enhance and restore the original intent of the Uniform Firearms Act.

“Where no uniform state laws are in place, the result can be chaotic as restrictions change from one jurisdiction to another,” he wrote in his legislative memorandum to all Pennsylvania senators. “Where so many different ordinances are allowed to exist, citizens with no criminal intent are placed in danger of breaking restrictions where they don’t know they exist.”

State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a western Pennsylvania Republican who is considered one of the strongest Second Amendment proponents in the House, had introduced a similar piece of legislation during the 2012 legislative session.

While that measure, House Bill 1523, passed the House Judiciary Committee, it failed to garner the support of the full House.

Metcalfe, however, has not abandoned his plan to hold municipalities accountable, and in a Dec. 10 memorandum sent to all House members, the legislator said he plans to introduce another measure similar to H.B. 1523 during the 2013 legislative session.

Just like Alloway, Metcalfe wrote in his memo that despite the “clear constitutional and statutory limitations, some of our local officials have gone out of their way to enact piecemeal local restrictions regarding the ownership and possession of firearms. The end result is that citizens are forced to incur significant expenses to hire attorneys to challenge these illegal and unconstitutional ordinances.”

Metcalfe’s future measure, like that of Alloway’s, would provide for actual damages, attorney’s fees and costs in cases where citizens have been cited for violating illegal local gun laws.

The Pennsylvania Record has previously interviewed attorneys, such as state gun law expert Jonathan Goldstein, who are eyeing up lawsuits with regard to the preemption violation issue.

The most recent example of this was the ordinance passed by the City of Philadelphia that bans people from carrying legal guns in parks, recreation centers, playgrounds and other municipally owned property.

Goldstein told the Record he is currently interviewing potential plaintiffs who would have standing to sue the city to challenge the ordinance.

“It’s patently illegal,” Goldstein previously said about gun ordinance’s like Philadelphia’s. “The city [is] once again wasting taxpayer time and money regulating something that they know they can’t regulate. They’re going to get sued.”

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