In towns across Pennsylvania, public officials are scrambling to protect themselves from legal challenges to local gun laws.
A Pennsylvania law enacted last year greatly expands who sue a municipality over local firearms regulations.
“The law gives automatic standing for anybody in Pennsylvania who could legally own a gun and any organization that has such a person as a member, to sue any municipality in the state that has an ordinance regulating firearms,” said Shira Goodman, Executive Director of the statewide education and advocacy group Ceasefire PA.
Goodman said nearly 100 Pennsylvania municipalities have gun laws. They range from requiring owners report lost and stolen firearms to rules for where you can and can’t carry a weapon.
Yardley Borough Solicitor Jordan Yeager said the Bucks County community repealed its law this week to avoid facing a challenge.
“It was an ordinance that had been on the books for decades in the borough that regulated the carrying of weapons in the borough and the state law that was passed this fall — Act 192 — and it’s hard to have this conversation without using gun analogies, ‘Put the borough under the gun’ as it has with a lot of municipalities to repeal the ordinance,” Yeager said.
If the ordinance was overturned, Yardley might have had to pay the plaintiff’s legal bills Yeager said.
“The risk to the borough is if somebody comes in and files a claim that the borough could be on the hook for significant attorney’s fees on the other side to try to defend its ordinance.”
It’s not just one Bucks County borough’s worry. Yeager is the solicitor for Doylestown Borough as well and he says lawmakers there are also taking steps to repeal local gun legislation.
“And I was contacted by a solicitor in the Lehigh Valley doing it. Yeah it’s going around. Municipalities are fearful that they’re going to be on the hook – and there are these threat letter going around by a lawyer who is going around threatening municipalities that if they don’t repeal their ordinances they’re going to get sued.”
The National Rifle Association is using the broader latitude to challenge gun laws in Philadelphia, Lancaster and Pittsburgh. Other gun rights groups have filed suit against other Pennsylvania municipalities.