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Pittsburgh City Council Preliminarily Approves Controversial Gun Legislation

Keith Srakocic
Protestors carry signs as they attend a rally on Monday, Jan. 7, 2019, in Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh City Council on Wednesday green-lit its controversial gun-control legislation by a preliminary vote of 6-3. 

This story is developing and will be updated. 

The bills, which will likely face a court challenge, would ban the use of semi-automatic weapons, assault-style rifles and similar firearms, accessories like bump stocks and armor-piercing ammunition within city limits. 

"We passed many bills that we have gone to court over," acknowledged R. Daniel Lavelle, one of the councilors in support. "I think in this case, again, we're going to do everything we can to stop people from getting killed from these kinds of guns."

Councilors Darlene Harris, Theresa Kail-Smith, and Anthony Coghill voted no. Harris and Kail-Smith's no votes were long expected. Coghill was a sponsor of the measures but sounded increasingly concerned about them during a public discussion last month.  

Opponents expressed sympathy for the effort, but said it was barred by state law.

"Even though I'm not supportive [of the bill], I am supportive of the idea," said Kail-Smith. But she and Harris referred to a failed 1990s local assault-rifle ban that prompted state legislators to explictly limit local governments' ability to pass laws. "We have challenged [gun laws] before. That's why now we are unable to." 

Squirrel Hill councilor Corey O'Connor sponsored the measure after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting last fall, which took place in his communitiy. He thanked councilors for their support. Referring to efforts in New Zealand to limit firearms after a shooting at a mosque, he noted that, "If you look at other countries, they make changes right away." 

The bills have caused a stir in the city since their introduction in December. Originally, they barred possessing a range of weapons, as well as bump-stocks, certain kinds of ammunition, and other accessories. Opponents say that local municipalities are barring from passing their own gun laws, because state law pre-empts them from doing so.

Last week City Council introduced amendments to the bill that sought to address the concerns about state pre-emeption. The amendments scaled back the outright ban on weapons and accesssories by making those bans dependent on changes to state law. But in the meantime, the new language bans the use of the weapons and accessories within city limits. 

The amendments also hold parents responsible if minors used guns outside of the home.

Councilor Erika Strassburger said state law says nothing about municipalities banning the use of certain weapons. The law bars local governments from trying "in any matter [to] regulate the lawful owersnhip, possesion, transfer or transportatoin of firearms," but doesn't address use explicitly.

But Kim Stolfer, president of Firearms Owners Against Crime, said the new bills are still unconstitutional. 

"By saying they think they can regulate use, they're going against Pennsylvania law again," Stolfer said. "The pre-emption law says may [not] 'in any manner' regulate this activity. They have no authority whatsoever." 

City Council is slated to take a final vote on the measures next Tuesday. Mayor Bill Peduto has been supportive of council's efforts and is expected to sign the bills. 

Born and raised in Birmingham, Ala., Ariel finally made a “big move” 45 minutes down the interstate to the University of Alabama where she studied Journalism and International Studies. During her time in college she interned with Tuscaloosa News, a daily newspaper in her college town. After college, she got her first job back in her hometown with Birmingham Times, a weekly where she served as reporter and editor. Ariel made an even bigger move to Pittsburgh and joined the 90.5 WESA family as digital producer. She is adjusting to experiencing actual cold weather.