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Allegheny County Council asks for more power to regulate local gun laws

The Allegheny County Courthouse in Downtown Pittsburgh.
Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Council is asking the Pennsylvania General Assembly to give home rule jurisdictions the power to make local gun laws. At a meeting Tuesday night, council passed a motion urging the General Assembly to amend theUniform Firearms Act, which governs gun laws statewide.

County Council does not currently have the power to enact regulations around gun ownership or transportation, but Councilor Tom Duerr, who co-sponsored the bill, said he felt compelled to change that after hearing constituent concerns about recent mass shootings across the country.

“The answer to this problem is not nothing,” Duerr said. “The answer to this problem, whether it be state, federal or local is not thoughts and prayers. It needs to be action. It needs to be preventative action to stop these mass shootings and all gun violence from happening in our county, our state, and in our country.”

But other council members said proposed regulations may be unconstitutional.

“The Pennsylvania state constitution is clear,” said Councilor Sam Demarco III. “Article 1, section 21 states, ‘The right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state shall not be questioned.’”

The Uniform Firearms Act also includes preemption language forbidding counties, municipalities and townships from enacting their own gun regulations. In 2019, an Allegheny County judgestruck down gun restrictions introduced after the 2018 massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue, citing Pennsylvania state law.

DeMarco worried that gun regulations might cause people to inadvertently break the law by creating a hodge-podge of rules that change from municipality to municipality.

“The reason why you have preemption in the first place is to prevent folks — innocent people, who are otherwise lawfully carrying their firearms, they have licenses — from inadvertently breaking the law because in transit from one place to another, they cross the boundary and don’t know the laws that may be present in that particular area,” he said.

Duerr acknowledged that state or federal gun legislation would be more effective. But, he said, “If we have to go municipality by municipality to do that, then I’m willing to start here in Allegheny County if we’re given that option.”

The motion passed with 11 voting in favor. Councilors Demarco, Suzanne Filiaggi, Nick Futules, and Bob Macey voted against it.

However, even those who voted for the motion seemed skeptical that anything would come of it. Republicans have a majority in the General Assembly, and the House Judiciary Committee has declined to move legislation, including“red flag” laws, out of committee in the past.

“This is a mere motion in order to get their attention,” said Councilor Paul Klein. “[We] at this point don’t have the power to do this. We don’t have the legal authority to do anything. But I think that we do have the moral responsibility to speak about this and not carry on with business as usual.”

Julia Zenkevich reports on Allegheny County government for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at