Court breathes new life into Harrisburg gun laws challenge

The Pennsylvania state Capitol

The Pennsylvania state Capitol is seen in this file photo. (Tom Downing/WITF)

People are allowed to sue to challenge a city’s gun restrictions even if they have not been charged with violating them, Pennsylvania’s highest court ruled Wednesday.

A divided state Supreme Court said that Firearm Owners Against Crime and other plaintiffs have legal standing to take on the Harrisburg city gun ordinances. At issue are local laws with criminal penalties for discharging a gun outside a gun range, possessing guns in parks, failing to report lost or stolen guns within two days or unaccompanied children having firearms outside their homes.

The majority opinion in the 4-3 decision said the plaintiffs do not have to wait until they are charged with violating the ordinances before challenging them on constitutional grounds. The decision comes after years of work by Republicans in the state Legislature to prevent local governments from enacting gun laws that are more restrictive than what the state law imposes, and to widen who may sue to overturn such ordinances.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Kim Stolfer, who heads up the firearm owners’ group, said Wednesday he expects the case to return to a lower court where the underlying merits of their case will be decided.

“No citizen should face prosecution for exercising a constitutional right,” Stolfer said. “And that’s essentially what Harrisburg wanted us to go through to be qualified in this action to take on their illegal ordinances.”

Messages seeking comment were left for Harrisburg Democratic Mayor Eric Papenfuse, who is a defendant in the case along with the city and its police chief, as well for as the lawyers who handled the appeal.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Get the WHYY app!

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal