Judge stays lawsuit against Pittsburgh over gun laws

By Jim Boyle | Mar 4, 2015

HARRISBURG - Local gun laws in Pittsburgh will remain on the books, at least until the constitutionality of recently passed legislation has been decided, according to an order Monday from an Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas judge.

Senior Judge Judith Friedman issued Monday a stay of the lawsuit filed against the City by the National Rifle Association in January. The ruling keeps Pittsburgh's ordinances in effect while a suit challenging Act 192 continues in the Commonwealth Court.

The NRA has joined several pro-gun lobbies by taking advantage of the new state law passed at the end of last year by the general assembly and signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett. Act 192 gives national organizations legal standing to file suits on behalf of members residing in Pennsylvania against municipalities that allegedly violate state law by enforcing local gun ordinances.

After the passage of Act 192, the NRA announced intentions to analyze the ordinances and file suits against any towns that violated a section of the Uniform Firearms Act enacted 40 years ago that prohibits municipalities from regulating the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms and ammunition.

Despite the state restriction, many municipalities have created their own ordinances regarding the use of firearms within the communities, resulting in what the NRA calls a patchwork of inconsistent laws. Before the passage of Act 192, local citizens had difficulty earning legal standing to challenge the ordinances.

The new legislation also requires municipalities to pay for all legal fees if they lose the civil case. The threats of lawsuits and the prospect of spending taxpayer dollars to cover court costs has prompted most  local government entities to preemptively repeal their gun ordinances.

However, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster have filed their own suit in the Commonwealth Court challenging the legality of the new bill, saying it was tacked on as an amendment to unrelated legislation and did not go through an effective vetting process before the vote.

An organization called Firearm Owners Against Crime (FOAC) have filed suit that has moved to the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania against the City of Harrisburg on behalf of three members living in Dauphin County, Kim Stolfer – FOAC’s president, Joshua First and Howard Bullock.

FOAC’s suit was originally filed in the Dauphin County Court of Common Pleas before moving to federal court. The complaint charges the City of Harrisburg, Mayor Eric Papenfuse and Police Chief Thomas Carter with 29 counts seeking declaratory and injunctive relief from 10 of the city’s ordinances restricting gun use.

The ordinances in dispute include the possession of firearms by minors outside the home without adult supervision, the discharge of firearms except at accredited firing ranges, the reporting of lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours of the discovery that the weapons are missing, firearm restrictions in public parks and the sale, display and public possession of a firearm during states of emergency.

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