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NRA Sues Pittsburgh Over Stolen Gun Law

Matt Rourke

Saying that Pittsburgh and several other cities in the state have “openly defied” state law in passing gun ordinances that are more restrictive than state laws, the National Rifle Association has sued Pittsburgh. 

The move comes one day after Houston-based U.S. Law Shield sued Harrisburg for its firearm laws.

The Second Amendment groups are taking action a week after a new state law went into effect giving such organizations standing to file such suits.

The cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster have "openly defied" a 40-year-old state law that forbids municipalities from regulating firearms, said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action.

The lawsuit against Lancaster was filed late Tuesday and was released by the NRA on Wednesday. The group also filed legal paperwork in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh courts and was awaiting confirmation those lawsuits had been accepted.

Pennsylvania has long barred its municipalities from approving ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition. But scores of cities and towns ignored the prohibition, and gun-rights groups complained the local measures were difficult to challenge successfully in court because judges have ruled that plaintiffs could not prove they were harmed by them.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto says Pittsburgh enacted its “Lost and Stolen” ordinance in 2009 after consulting with legal experts and following the recommendations of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

“We understand the laws of the state of Pennsylvania. We cannot enact laws which would inhibit the right of a person to own a gun. ‘Lost and Stolen Handgun’ doesn’t do that,” Peduto said. “We’re not taking away anyone’s right to own a gun. We’re not taking away anyone’s right to own 10 guns. What we’re saying is when that gun is lost or stolen, you’ve got to report it.”

Under a state law that took effect last week, gun owners no longer have to show they have been hurt by a local ordinance to successfully challenge it. The new law also allows organizations like the National Rifle Association to sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member. If successful, the challenger can also seek legal fees and other costs.

“The NRA can now sue Pittsburgh, hire 40 attorneys in New York, charge us with the bill even if they lose, and that’s never happened in Pennsylvania history,” Peduto said.

Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Lancaster are fighting the new law in court, contending lawmakers didn't follow constitutional procedure for passing legislation. According to Peduto, Pittsburgh will not back down.

“We intend to not be deterred,” Peduto said. “We will keep our lawsuit against the unconstitutional act that was passed in Harrisburg.”

Philadelphia officials have long said the local measures are needed to combat persistent gun violence that claims hundreds of lives each year. In 2010, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court tossed city ordinances that limited people to buying one gun a month and banned assault weapons, but the NRA — deemed to lack standing — lost its bid to get three other city gun laws thrown out.

In the small city of Lancaster, the NRA is challenging an ordinance that requires residents to tell police if a gun they own is lost or stolen. Such ordinances are common in cities throughout Pennsylvania.

Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray, who is named as a defendant along with City Council and the city itself, did not immediately respond to an email request for comment made through his chief of staff.

Cox, the NRA official, said local laws "do not make people safer" and, in a statement, accused officials of "politically grandstanding at taxpayers' expense."

The NRA plans to go after other municipalities whose gun ordinances are barred by state law, said the group's attorney, Jonathan Goldstein.

"We expect every municipality to repeal ordinances that are pre-empted. If other folks don't get on board with what the law requires, they can expect to hear from us in due course," he said.

According to Peduto, the number of municipalities that have adopted “Lost and Stolen” ordinances reveals how important the regulation is to reducing gun violence.

“Pass lost or stolen on a state-wide basis and do it in Harrisburg,” Peduto offered. “And then we wouldn’t have to do it in municipality after municipality, with over 100 municipalities of Pennsylvania asking for this.”

Under threat of litigation by another attorney, Joshua Prince, more than 20 Pennsylvania municipalities have already moved to repeal their firearms ordinances instead of defending them in court.