Local, state lawmakers react to Pa. gun measure on way to Corbett's desk

Mayor Nutter criticizes new state gun measure. — Photo by city of Philadelphia photographer Kait Privitera
State House Republicans amended the bill to include language that would allow groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and others to sue individual municipalities for what these groups would consider an infringement on their constitutional rights.
Mayor Michael Nutter criticized the measure, which is now on its way to Gov. Tom Corbett for his signature before it becomes law.
“We are profoundly opposed to the provisions added to HB 80 in the Senate,” Nutter said. “Gun violence represents a particularly tragic epidemic in poorer communities in cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Parents, family members and community leaders are naturally compelled by concern for their loved ones to do everything in their power to combat the shootings that destroy lives. It is squarely at some of these responses by the community that HB 80 is now aimed. The standing and attorneys fees [for] provisions of HB 80 raise the stakes for local governments, and the communities they serve, for trying to do something about illegal gun violence.”
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto also endorsed Nutter’s perspective.
In Philadelphia, Nutter said, lawmakers have implemented ordinances and policies — such as requirements regarding lost or stolen firearms and possession of firearms on city property, which address the issue of proliferation of unlawful guns — and it is doing so while staying within the legal framework established by state legislators.
“While any law can be tested in court, no one, much less resource-strapped municipalities and their taxpayers, should be singled out to bear markedly increased risk and cost for trying to protect human life,” Nutter said. “Indeed, under HB 80, it would be riskier for cities to act on matters of unlawful gun possession and violence than to act on zoning. No one would reasonably argue that human life should be riskier to defend than a zoning setback.”
The Philadelphia City Council also assailed the signing. Council President Darrell Clarke released a statement, signed by all members of council.
Clarke noted the original bill dealt with metals, but House Republicans “unconstitutionally altered [the legislation] at the 11th hour,” and voiced displeasure with Corbett’s indication the governor would sign the legislation.
“There is no rational reason why this bill should give favored legal status to moneyed special interest gun groups, allowing them to sue and collect large windfalls from taxpayers,” Clarke said. “Municipalities including Philadelphia are all too familiar with the devastating costs to life, livelihood and neighborhood quality inflicted by senseless gun violence.
“Cities across this commonwealth enact gun regulations in an effort to save lives, period,” Clarke continued. “To meet such efforts with the threat of costly and frivolous litigation by special interests is heartless at best. Forcing communities devastated by gun violence to fork over thousands of tax dollars to the very organizations responsible for the free flow of deadly weapons in our country is an especially sick irony.”
The measure originally was introduced with the intention to deal with theft of scrap metal, and was subsequently amended by the Senate to include a provision that would give standing to any resident of Pennsylvania or membership organization, such as the NRA, to challenge local ordinances that attempt to restrict access to guns.
The amendment also would provide a legal challenger of these ordinances with the ability to further recoup all legal expenses from the municipality. This provision, the so-called “punish towns” legislation, was supported by the NRA as well.
“Philadelphia and other municipalities in the state simply have been trying to protect their citizens both young and old, and now, as a result, they’ll be at risk of costly legal battles,” said State Rep. Ron Waters. “These local governments have been trying to save lives with these ordinances because the state legislature has been unwilling to act. They should not be punished for stepping up when others wouldn’t.”
State Rep. W. Curtis Thomas, who led a spirited charge to convince House members to vote no on the measure, questioned the very constitutionality of such a bill.
Thomas labeled the move a “misguided and potentially unconstitutional overreach” motivated by supporters of the NRA.
“Local preemption as it was defined in this bill will do more than wipe lifesaving ordinances off the books of municipalities across the state, it will also punish these municipalities for having the gall to try and protect their own citizens in the first place,” Thomas said. “Even if a city or town were to repeal an ordinance, they are still at risk of legal action and being on the hook for the opposing side’s legal fees, and that financial burden is just too great for them to bear.
Thomas said he was also concerned about an apparent violation of the single subject rule. The Pennsylvania Constitution states, with a few exceptions, a bill must limit itself to one subject. Thomas believes the original intent of the bill, stopping the theft of scrap metal, doesn’t share enough of a connection with gun regulations to satisfy that rule.
“Supporters of this bill have been in such a fervor to get it signed into law, they are ignoring the very rules that dictate what we can and cannot do,” Thomas said. “If this bill is signed into law, you can count on a costly legal battle to determine its constitutionality, which will leave municipalities across the state in the lurch as they wait for the possibility of a fierce legal battle from the NRA.”
Nutter, too, brought up the constitutional wrinkle, and said General Assembly should not facilitate lawsuits against local governments simply to thwart their modest attempts at striking a balance between the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms, and reducing the proliferation of illegal firearms and the deaths they cause.
Although not directly involved with Monday’s vote, State Sen. Anthony Williams raised the question of what such laws will do not only to Philadelphia, but to Pennsylvania and the nation as a whole.
“Obviously, and this is to those that argue about the second amendment, what they did had nothing to do with the second amendment,” Williams said. “It gave a special–interest group super-powers that are unprecedented in the United States.
“For the NRA or any party to be allowed to sue local governments is inconsistent with the representation [in those municipalities], and it’s only a matter of time before these laws rip apart the country.”


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