Gun owner's case against Stroud Township remanded back to trial court

By Russell Boniface | Dec 1, 2017

HARRISBURG – The Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania remanded a case back to trial court involving a Stroud Township gun owner who challenged the constitutionality of not being allowed to discharge firearms on his property due to a local ordinance.

The appellate court ruled Nov. 17 that the trial court failed to conduct any constitutional analysis of plaintiff Jonathan Barris’ claim “that the ordinance, which restricts his ability to practice firing his firearms on his property  ... unconstitutionally infringes on his rights under both the Second  Amendment and Article I, Section 21 of the Constitution of Pennsylvania either facially or as applied.”

In 2015, Barris challenged an ordinance regulating the discharge of firearms within Stroud Township because it prohibited him from using a portion of his property as a private shooting range, the opinion states.

In his complaint, Barris claimed that the ordinance violated his rights under the Second Amendment, the Constitution of Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act and the range protection statutes.

He sought declaratory and injunctive relief against the township.

The trail court dismissed Barris’ state and federal constitutional arguments and concluded that discharging firearms was omitted from the scope of the Firearms Act. The trial court also concluded that the ordinance was not in conflict with the Pennsylvania’s range protection statutes because those relate to noise and nuisance. The court, however, allowed for discharge of firearms for self-defense, as authorized under Pennsylvania law.

The trial court did not take Barris’ firearms away and permitted him to use them for self-defense but maintained the ordinance is in place for safety reasons.

On appeal, Barris argued that the trial court didn’t give him the opportunity to amend his complaint rather than dismiss it with prejudice, and also challenged the trial court’s analysis of his constitutional challenge.

"There are two ways to challenge the constitutionality of a legislative enactment: either the enactment is unconstitutional on its face or as applied in a particular circumstance,” the Commonwealth Court stated.

The appellate court remanded the case back to trial court to further consider plaintiff’s constitutional challenges. It also directed the trial court “to afford Barris a reasonable period within which to file an amended complaint.”

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