Pennsylvania Record

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Pittsburgh appeals rejection of its controversial firearms ordinance to Commonwealth Court

State Court

By Nicholas Malfitano | Jan 7, 2020

Gun

HARRISBURG – After rejection from a state court judge and a subsequent appeal by the City of Pittsburgh, the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania is now overseeing the City’s attempt to regulate firearms in the city beyond what is allowed by other laws.

After indefinitely staying the effective date of the ordinances in question in May, on Oct. 29, Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Joseph M. James said that the Uniform Firearms Act and its doctrine of field pre-emption prevented the ordinances from being enacted.

“As its name indicates, the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act regulates the entire field of firearms and ammunition across the state of Pennsylvania. Two types of pre-emption, express and field, are possibly implicated by a challenge of this ordinance,” James said.

“The City has expended a large amount of energy attempting to categorize the restricted behavior in such a way that it is not expressly prohibited by Section 6120 of the UFA. Despite the City’s efforts to avoid the specific pre-emption set forth in Section 6120, they are not able to avoid the obvious intent of the Legislature to pre-empt this entire field. The UFA purports to regulate firearms and ammunition in the Commonwealth, and whether a person is using, brandishing, carrying or loading them.”

Through citing a federal statute, summary judgment was granted to a group of Pittsburgh citizens that filed a lawsuit against the City for the alleged infringement of their rights to defend themselves and for alleged violation of state law through its passage of gun regulation ordinances.

James added that under the doctrine of field pre-emption, the UFA pre-empts any local regulation pertaining to the regulation of firearms.

“The UFA is a comprehensive statute that evidences an intent by the Legislature to pre-empt the entire field of firearms and ammunition across the state of Pennsylvania. Therefore, for the foregoing reasons, the plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment is granted and the City’s cross-motion for summary judgment is denied,” James stated.

The City filed the appeal to the Commonwealth Court on Nov. 18. In its overseeing of cases related to municipal and state legal policies, it will decide the next chapter of the legislation.

In April, 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 – first initiated legal action in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas 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.

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 in April.

“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,” the complaint 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.”

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

Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania case 1753 C.D. 2019

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas case GD-19-005308

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nick.malfitano@therecordinc.com

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