The National Rifle Association has filed suit against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster to overturn local gun laws that are tougher than Pennsylvania statutes.
The NRA is bringing the suit thanks to a new Pennsylvania law allowing groups to sue even without finding an individual who has been harmed.
The suit claims the three cities are violating a state law prohibiting municipalities from enacting stronger gun laws than the state. The right to bear arms can’t differ from town to town and city to city, said NRA attorney Jonathan Goldstein.
“It can’t be the case that a person drives across Montgomery County and goes from Lower Merion Township to Haverford Township into a borough and out to another township that they suddenly have to keep track of hundreds and hundreds of local laws,” Goldstein said. “It’s just not fair.”
The 2014 law giving legal “standing” to groups such as the NRA passed under questionable circumstances, said Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter.
“The argument generally is that when you write a piece of proposed legislation, the title of it and the substance should match what was in the bill,” McDonald said. “In this case, the law was about stolen metal, to which was added language that would give groups like the NRA standing to bring suit against municipalities.”
Attorney Shira Goodman of the group Ceasefire PA said the legislation that paved the way for such lawsuits is already being contested in court.
“Usually, to sue a town or city, you have to be in that town or city and be harmed by it. This is like saying I’ve never been to Cambria County, but I can sue a town because they had ice on its municipal building steps even if I go there and didn’t fall,” Goodman said.
Since the law entitles winning parties to recover legal costs, some municipalities might repeal their regulations rather than risk losing and paying high legal bills, she said.
Philadelphia mayoral candidate Ken Trujillo called the lawsuit “reprehensible.”
“It’s reprehensible that the NRA is suing Philadelphia for trying to keep its citizens safe, and it’s even more unbelievable that Harrisburg gave them the power to do so,” Trujillo said. “As city solicitor, I sued gun manufacturers on behalf of Philadelphia and several other cities, and reached a historic settlement with Smith & Wesson.”
In Philadelphia, those who don’t report a lost or stolen firearm within 24 hours face fines of up to $2,000 and 90 days in jail. Officials say that helps fight straw purchasers, those who buy guns for criminals and then sell them the weapon.
The NRA contends using laws already on the books are just as good as the enhanced laws.