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Harrisburg Sued Under New Law Targeting Local Gun Measures

Pennsylvania's capital city is facing a lawsuit believed to be the first filed under a new state law designed to give gun owners and gun rights groups a better chance at dismantling municipal firearms ordinances.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in Dauphin County court named as defendants the city of Harrisburg and various city officials.

Two members of the Pennsylvania chapter of Houston-based U.S. Law Shield filed the lawsuit, asking the court to stop Harrisburg from enforcing various firearms ordinances. They include ordinances that ban possession of firearms in parks, allow the mayor to prohibit public possession of weapons in a declared state of emergency and require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms to police.

The 48-page complaint said the defendants possess and use their guns in accordance with state law, but are now "in danger of facing prosecution and criminal penalties at the hands of defendants city of Harrisburg and Thomas Carter," the city's police chief.

The law took effect last week. After Gov. Tom Corbett signed it last year, the National Rifle Association lauded it as "the strongest firearms pre-emption statute in the country."

A city spokeswoman said Tuesday morning she had no information about the lawsuit. The cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster are challenging the law in court, saying lawmakers approved it in violation of state constitutional provisions designed to promote transparency in the legislative process.

Pennsylvania, which has a strong tradition of hunting and gun ownership, has long prohibited its municipalities from enforcing firearms ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition.

But Pennsylvania cities trying to curb gun violence have chafed against that directive, and gun-rights groups had complained that scores of municipal gun measures were difficult to challenge successfully in court because judges have ruled that plaintiffs could not prove they were harmed by it.

Under the new state law, gun owners no longer have to prove they have been harmed by the local measure to successfully challenge it, and "membership organizations" like the National Rifle Association can stand in to sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member. The challenger can also seek damages.

Some municipalities have moved to repeal their firearms ordinances instead of defending them in court.

Corbett, a Republican, leaves office next week. Democrat Tom Wolf, who beat him in the Nov. 4 election, opposed the firearms law. The state attorney general, Democrat Kathleen Kane, has declined to defend the law in court, leaving its defense to Corbett's office and lawmakers.

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