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Politics & Government

Cities Reconsider Gun Laws, Anticipating Court Battles

Pennsylvania cities will have about two months to scrap local gun restrictions that could leave them open to lawsuits under a state proposal headed for the governor's signature.

The measure gives gun owners and groups like the National Rifle Association standing to sue municipalities (and collect attorney fees) over gun ordinances that go beyond state law.

Lancaster is among dozens of cities with its own gun laws. It has a reporting requirement for lost or stolen guns and bans the unlawful discharge of firearms.

"We feel we were right in passing these. We feel we have the authority to pass these," said Mayor Rick Gray, who also heads the state chapter of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the interest group backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Gray said Lancaster's city council was careful not to try to regulate the "lawful ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation of firearms," which according to state law is the General Assembly's domain.

Still, he is considering repeal.

"We don't know if we want to bear the cost of a bunch of frivolous suits," said Gray.

A court challenge could come from people who lawfully own a firearm or a group, like the NRA, on their behalf. No personal injury must be claimed, so the law doesn't need to be enforced to spur such a lawsuit.

Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Allegheny) spoke on the House floor this week in support of the measure, which passed easily in both legislative chambers.

"The well-funded anti-gun lobby and its minions, their solution to gun violence is to disarm law-abiding citizens by adding these local hurdles to their ability to keep and bear arms," Saccone said.

Gray dismissed the charge.

"Any legitimate firearm owner who has a gun stolen will report it," said Gray. The only people who don't, he said, are trying to cover up "their own illegal activity."

Local gun laws rarely result in prosecutions in Lancaster, at least, because their small jurisdiction makes them difficult to enforce. But Gray doesn't think they're more symbol than deterrent.

"If they're window dressing, why is the General Assembly, under the heavy lobbying from the NRA, why is the General Assembly going to this extreme?" Gray said. "Well, apparently, they don't think it's just window-dressing."

What's at stake and candidate profiles for statewide races and competitive primaries in Allegheny County.