Pa. gun law prompted nearly 100 municipalities to alter ordinances

    At least another five communities face lawsuits from the NRA and other gun groups.

    A Pennsylvania law that lowered the threshold for Second Amendment rights advocates to sue over local firearms restrictions, at taxpayers’ expense, has been ruled unconstitutional by Commonwealth Court.

    The decision says the law — known as Act 192 — violates the state constitution because of the way the law was developed and passed.

    Specifically, legislators didn’t stick to the topic or intent of its parent bill, which dealt with copper and aluminum theft.

    The ruling came down Thursday, less than a year after the law took effect.

    But in the meantime, at least 93 municipalities — maybe more — changed their local firearms regulations. They wanted to avoid litigation costs.

    Previously, firearms groups couldn’t sue a municipality over local gun regulations unless they could prove the rules had harmed someone whose interests they represented.

    Act 192 did away with that requirement and made municipalities — i.e., taxpayers — responsible for court costs.

    “They really can’t afford to be sued,” says Stanley Lederman, solicitor for the 2,000-person borough of West Homestead in Allegheny County.

    Other particulars vary

    Some municipalities rescinded their ordinances, while others amended them.

    In some cases, officials say they reviewed their ordinances after getting word from resident gun owners, or calls or letters from advocacy organizations, indicating the state government’s authority over gun regulations.

    A letter from an open-carry group prompted the borough of New Freedom, for example, to reverse its ban on displaying guns in parks, although firing them remains prohibited, according to Borough Clerk Tonya Crawford.

    Elsewhere, local officials acted on their solicitors’ advice or after learning of the legislature’s related activity or lawsuits filed against cities that didn’t change their codes.

    Those include Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Lancaster and Lower Merion Township.

    In multiple cities, the challenged ordinances require owners to report lost or stolen firearms or make it illegal to carry them in public parks. Some also prohibited firing guns, selling them during states of emergencies or their possession by minors.

    Some municipalities rescinded similar ordinances. In other cases, officials preemptively altered municipal codes where firearms were otherwise regulated, as a precaution to avoid the expense of a legal challenge.

    What’s next?

    Reading is one city that’s already considering re-enacting their gun ordinances.

    Pittsburgh, Lancaster and Harrisburg officials say they’re evaluating next steps in related active lawsuits based on yesterday’s ruling, but might wait to take action given the 30-day window for an appeal, which state lawmakers backing Act 192 say is likely.

    But some experts say the state Supreme Court will uphold the decision because it was clear, strongly-worded and nearly unanimous (one of seven judges wrote a separate opinion that partially dissented, but partially consented with the majority ruling).

    Editor’s note: Keystone Crossroads compiled the list of municipalities that have repealed or amended their firearms regulations by calling them and/or using ordinance databases maintained by ecode360 and Keystate Publishers. If we’ve missed you, please reach out.

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