Pa. high court considers constitutionality of statute allowing NRA to sue over local gun laws

Attorney Martin Black (left) and state Sen. Daylin Leach speak with reporters after arguments before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Attorney Martin Black (left) and state Sen. Daylin Leach speak with reporters after arguments before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court is considering whether it was unconstitutional for state lawmakers to pass a measure aimed, in part, at granting outside groups legal standing to challenge local gun-control measures.

Act 192 addresses scrap metal theft. But it also gives member organizations, including the National Rifle Association, the power to sue municipalities that pass gun control measures stronger than those on state books.

If such a group succeeds in its suit, the municipality must cover the organization’s legal fees.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA, said Act 192 wrongly gives groups the power to bully municipalities from afar and, potentially, at the taxpayer’s expense.

“They went to the legislature and said, ‘Please give us something that doesn’t exist in our Commonwealth,’ something that has never existed under our system of jurisprudence — the right to sue when nobody has been harmed,” said Goodman.

Jonathan Goldstein, outside counsel for the NRA, disagreed,  saying groups like his should have every right to go after towns and cities that break the law.

“The General Assembly saw fit to put teeth into the law prohibiting their illegal conduct. And whether this court today upholds the General Assembly, doesn’t change the fact that their ordinances are illegal,” said Goldstein.

At issue is whether lawmakers can combine two pieces of legislation into one bill if those pieces appear to address two different subjects — in this case, criminal and civil proceedings.

Backers of the combined bill, who include state Rep. Mike Turzai and state Sen. Joe Scarnati, argue that both parts of the measure deal with crime.

During an appeals hearing Wednesday in Philadelphia, members of the Supreme Court — particularly Judge David Wecht — did not appear convinced by that argument.

The Commonwealth Court has previously deemed Act 192 unconstitutional.

It could be months before the court reaches a decision.

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