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Pittsburgh City Council Votes 6-3 In Favor Of Gun Bills; Opponents Prepare to Sue City

Keith Srakocic
A group of counter-protestors hold signs across the street from a rally against proposed restrictions by Pittsburgh city council banning semi-automatic rifles, certain ammunition and firearms accessories within city limits on Jan. 7, 2019, in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh City Council gave final approval Tuesday to gun restrictions proposed after last year's synagogue massacre, inviting a legal challenge by gun-rights activists who have long tangled with the city over firearms.

*This story was updated on April 2 at 6:53 p.m. to reflect a clarification by the National Rifle Association of the timing of a lawsuit it intends to file.

After taking an initial vote last week, the all-Democratic council voted 6-3 to send the legislation to the desk of Mayor Bill Peduto, who is expected to sign the bills into law.

The legislation would place restrictions on military-style assault weapons like the AR-15 rifle that authorities say was used in the Oct. 27 rampage at Tree of Life Synagogue that killed 11 and wounded seven. It would also ban most uses of armor-piercing ammunition and high-capacity magazines, and allow the temporary seizure of guns from people who are determined to be a danger to themselves or others.

City Councilors Anthony Coghill, Darlene Harris and Theresa Kail-Smith voted against the legislation.

Ahead of the vote, Kail-Smith, who represents District 2 in the city, said she would like to go to the state capitol and work with legislators there, but on the local level, she would vote "no."

On Tuesday afternoon, just hours after the vote, the National Rifle Association announced it had assisted Pittsburgh residents in filing a suit against the city in the Allegheny Court of Common Pleas, challenging the city's ban on loaded magazines that accept more than 10 rounds of ammunition. 

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto shared his full position on gun legislation and withholding city firearms contracts ahead of a conversation with other mayors on 90.5 WESA's The Confluence. Listen to the full audio here.

Hours after that, the NRA told 90.5 WESA the release had been sent "prematurely," and that the gun-rights group would file the action after it had been signed by Mayor Bill Peduto.

The NRA's misfire reflects the certainty of legal action stemming from the ordinances. Gun-rights advocates have made no secret that they would contest the city ordinances in court.

Pennsylvania state law forbids municipalities from regulating guns. Pro-gun advocates have said they'll sue to block the laws from taking effect — and file private criminal complaints against council and Peduto over allegations of abuse of office and official repression.

Mary Konieczny, a nurse who addressed the council, called the legislation "a distraction and an overreach of authority" and accused council members Tuesday of trying "to fearmonger people that by taking guns away from legal gun owners, people will be safe."

Dennis Jordan, a lifelong Pittsburgh resident and gun collector wearing a black T-shirt supporting the Second Amendment, also spoke out against the bills.

"My guns are not hurting anybody. I have no intent of hurting anybody," he told the council. "I am not going to be allowed to own my guns because of this ordinance. I am ready to move out of this place. You just want to control people. You want to take away my right to protect people."

The three-bill package — proposed not long after the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history — was weakened ahead of the vote in an effort to make it more likely to survive a court challenge.

State law has long prohibited municipalities from regulating the ownership or possession of guns or ammunition. While one of the Pittsburgh bills originally included an outright ban on assault weapons, the revised measure bars the "use" of assault weapons in public places.

A full ban on possession would take effect only if state lawmakers or the state Supreme Court give municipalities the right to regulate guns, which is seen as unlikely in a state where legislative majorities are fiercely protective of gun rights.

Jenna Paulat, wearing a Moms Demand Action T-shirt, said she supported "sensible gun laws." She praised council members for their "bold actions."

"They can't sit around and wait for the state and federal legislators to take action," she said.

Pittsburgh tried enforcing an assault-weapons ban in 1993, but the state Legislature quickly took action to invalidate the measure, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that city officials had overstepped.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.