Pa. lawmakers try to revive NRA-backed measure aimed at weakening local gun laws

     Firearms on display at a gun shop. (Seth Perlman/AP File Photo)

    Firearms on display at a gun shop. (Seth Perlman/AP File Photo)

    Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg are pushing a bill that would enable the NRA and similar groups to sue municipalities to challenge local gun regulations.

    If it sounds familiar, it should.

    It’s the latest effort to revive the heart of the controversial 2014 law known as Act 192, which the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated last year.

    Supporters of the renewed push insist the goal is to create consistent gun regulation statewide.

    “Where so many different ordinances are allowed to exist, citizens with no criminal intent are placed in danger of breaking restrictions where they don’t know they exist,” Rep. Mark Keller, whose district includes parts of Cumberland and Perry counties, wrote in a memo accompanying the bill. 

    Act 192 gave groups such as the NRA the right to sue over gun ordinances stricter than state law and put local governments on the hook for legal fees, causing more than 20 towns to weaken or drop firearm laws to avoid being the target of litigation.

    But Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Lancaster, Pittsburgh and some other municipalities still have gun-control measures on the books that exceed state rules, including laws banning guns in public parks and regulations about reporting lost or stolen firearms.

    The NRA sued Philadelphia to strike seven of its gun-control ordinances, but after the courts voided Act 192, the NRA lost the legal fight. 

    Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, argues that the person who travels from county to county and finds gun regulations burdensome is a myth.

    “I don’t know who this bill will really help,” Goodman said. “Except a couple of NRA and Firearm Owners Against Crime lawyers who file these lawsuits and stand to make money.”

    The NRA’s Legislative Action arm celebrated the introduction of Keller’s bill, which has a companion bill sponsored by state Sen. Wayne Langerholc of Bedford County.

    The bill would remedy the “complex patchwork of regulations across the state, which make it difficult for responsible firearm owners to ensure they are following the law,” NRA officials wrote.

    If the bill passes and survives an expected veto from the governor, a court brawl is anticipated. Goodman questioned whether an organization should have legal standing to sue just because its members are residents who own guns.

    “That is not standing for anything,” Goodman said. “From the beginning of our country and commonwealth, you couldn’t just sue because you didn’t like something. You had to have an injury, be in imminent harm of an injury. This just doesn’t make any sense.”

    In 2015, the Commonwealth Court overturned Act 192 on procedural grounds, since it was tucked into an unrelated bill at the last minute that stiffened penalties for stealing scrap metal. The following year, the state’s high court affirmed the ruling. 

    Last legislative session, the Pennsylvania Senate voted on a similar bill, but it never gained traction in the House.

    If this version passes, it would be one of the strongest laws in the country for gun-rights groups hoping to dismantle regulations viewed as onerous.

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

    It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.