HARRISBURG – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania reversed a ruling in December in which the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery Count denied a motion for a preliminary injunction against an ordinance that prohibits the carrying or discharging of firearms in a park without a special permit.
Firearm Owners Against Crime (FOAC) president Kim Stolfer and Joseph Abramson appealed the lower court ruling.
“This ruling is long overdue and builds upon the 1996 Ortiz PA Supreme Court decision that the statewide constitutional concerns embodied in Article 1, Section 21 and 25 of the PA Constitution are important as is the constitutional precept of ‘equal protections,’” Stolfer told the Pennsylvania Record.
Stolfer said Lower Merion Township has the potential next move in the case.
“We’ll wait to see if Lower Merion Township appeals to the Pa. Supreme Court,” he said. “If not, it'll be remanded to the court of common pleas, and we'll have to see how the court wants to handle it.”
The ordinance enacted by Lower Merion Township in 2011 imposes a maximum fine of $600 per violation and authorizes the police to remove violators from township parks or recreation areas.
In 2014, FOAC told the township that the ordinance violated the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act (UFA) because it improperly restricted firearm possession in township parks.
After the township refused to repeal the ordinance, several FOAC members held a rally in a township park. No citations were issued and no threats of prosecution were made.
The plaintiffs filed a complaint against the township on March 20, 2015, seeking an injunction and alleging that the ordinance violated the Pennsylvania Constitution and was preempted by the UFA. The plaintiffs also alleged that greater injury would result from refusing the injunction because the plaintiffs would face prosecution and be deprived of their constitutional and statutory rights.
In response to the injunction motion, the township argued that there was no evidence that it ever enforced the ordinance, so any alleged harm “was speculative and insufficient to warrant issuance of a preliminary injunction,” the Commonwealth Court said in its ruling.
The township also argued that more harm would result from granting the injunction than refusing it because, in part, “prohibiting the unlawful possession of firearms is essential to the safety of the township’s residents.”
In denying the injunction request, the Montgomery County court called the plaintiffs’ claims uncertain and ruled that, therefore, “the matter is not ripe for a preliminary injunction.” However, the Commonwealth Court said a previous ruling “expressly rejected the argument the township proffered” in the FOAC case that the regulation of unlawful firearm possession is consistent with the UFA.”
Stolfer said Lower Merion Township is not the only municipality in Pennsylvania that has attempted to “enact and maintain laws that violate PA Preemption law (Title 18, Section 6120) by regulating firearms.”
“There are a number of communities that are in violation of PA Law such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, etc.,” Stolfer said. “The fact that misinformed and biased local elected officials attempt to advance their own anti-self-defense agendas at the expense of our rights and freedoms is unconscionable.”