Pennsylvania Record

Friday, April 3, 2020

Here come the legal challenges to Pittsburgh's new gun laws passed after mass shooting at synagogue


By John Suayan | Apr 16, 2019


PITTSBURGH – Having attained a prosecutor’s refusal to bring criminal charges against them in response to the city’s new firearms restrictions late last week, Pittsburgh's mayor and city council are now targets of civil litigation.

A cadre of Pittsburghers, a non-partisan PAC and two nonprofit organizations filed lawsuits against the city, Democratic Mayor William “Bill” Peduto, and six Pittsburgh City Council members over what they assert is an affront to state law.

The petitioners – Laurence J. Anderson, Scott Miller, Robert R. Opdyke, Michael A. Whitehouse, Matthew Boarderly, Saadyah Averick, Fred Rak, Firearm Owners against Crime, Firearms Policy Coalition, and Firearms Policy Foundation – initiated legal action in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in response to the defendants’ alleged infringement of the right to defend themselves.

“The plaintiffs own, possess, use, and bear firearms for all lawful purposes, including, but not limited to, self-defense, hunting, firearms training/education, and target shooting,” explained one of the suits.

An April 12 Washington Post article said that the gun restrictions in question were approved following a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue that claimed the lives of 11 people. City Council members Bruce Kraus, Corey O’Connor, R. Daniel Lavelle, Deb Gross, Erika Strassberger, and Ricky Burgess voted in favor of the measures while Peduto signed them into law earlier this month.

The Post additionally reported that private criminal complaints – permitted under Pennsylvania law – were unsuccessfully filed against the mayor and the council members for “official oppression and other counts.” Instead, each suit intends to have the laws overturned.

“The City of Pittsburgh has prohibited one of the most common and important means by which its citizens exercise their fundamental right of self-defense,” argued the suit attributed to Anderson, Miller, Opdyke, and Whitehouse

“By banning the public possession and transportation of loaded standard-capacity firearm magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition, Pittsburgh has violated the rights of its citizens and exceeded its authority under Pennsylvania law.”

The 35-page complaint claimed that the city “has committed this violation without any realistic prospect of diminishing the misuse of firearms and or the incidence of horrific mass shootings.”

“All it will do is leave law-abiding citizens more vulnerable to attack from better-armed and more ruthless assailants,” it said.

Court documents filed on behalf of Boarderly, Averick, Rak, FOAC, FPC, and FPF allege that the defendants’ informal announcement last year to formally introduce a trio of proposals regulating firearms, ammunition, and firearm accessories was done without “the authority to enact the proposals and that such would require that they ‘change the laws in Harrisburg.'" Peduto purportedly acknowledged that he and the City Council lacked the authority.

Aside from state law, the 348-page suit accuses the defendants of violating City Council rules, the Home Rule Charter, and the Municipal Powers of Cities of the Second Class, and the Pennsylvania Constitution, as well as lists 16 counts against them.

Joshua Prince with the Civil Rights Defense Firm, P.C., of Bechtelsville, is representing Boarderly, Averick, Rak, FOAC, FPC, and FPF while the law firms Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, PLLC, of Greensberg, and Cooper & Kirk, PLLC, of Washington, are legal counsel for Anderson, Miller, Opdyke, and Whitehouse.

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Organizations in this Story

City of PittsburghThe Washington PostCourt of Common Pleas of Allegheny County