Pittsburgh Council Amends Gun Bills, Will Wait On State Approval To Ban Some Firearms

Mar 20, 2019

Pittsburgh City Council amended its controversial gun-control legislation Wednesday, making some provisions dependent on state approval, while adding new language councilors said the city can enforce on its own. 

The new legislation still includes bans on certain firearms, accessories and ammunition in the city, but now those prohibitions will become effective only after the state legislature, or the courts, grant local governments the ability to set such limits. Critics of the bills have said state law pre-empts local governments from imposing such bans.

In the meantime, the amended ordinances ban the public use of those weapons and ammunition.  That ban would go into effect 60 days after passage. The ordinance defines the use of magazine broadly, including not just discharging the weapon but loading the magazine with ammunition or brandishing the weapon with the magazine attached. 

Councilors portrayed the changes as efforts to address concerns about state law.  

"Now there is still a ban on assault weapons within the city, but that's tied to state legislative or court action," said councilor Erika Strassburger, one of the sponsors of the bill. "What the state law doesn't address is use, so we are now seeking to pass a bill that would prohibit the use of firearms or certain accessories within the city of Pittsburgh in a public place."

"I think this strengthens our position, strengthens the bill," she added. "We are taking a creative look at the law, we've done a full comprehensive look at the state law, and I think [the new language] strengthens our position."

Still, City Councilor Corey O'Connor said officials are still prepared to take the fight to the state level. 

"We're actually really pushing the envelope to say look this has never been tested before, this has never been challenged, we want to challenge it for all other municipalities," he said. 

In fact, while the original bill grandfathered in firearms and ammunition prior to its being put into effect, the ban on use would apply universally. 

Council also added new provisions to a third bill which limits gun ownership in domestic-abuse situations.  The amendment requires parents or guardians to secure firearms so minors can't get access to them. If a minor accesses an improperly secured weapon and uses it, the owner would be held responsible. 

O'Connor said the new provisions were intended for "when kids walk into the parent or guardian's room, grab the weapon [and] it shows up at school or take it somewhere else." 

"If I have a child and I permit them to use it within the household that's different," he added, pointing to exemptions in the bill. "If somebody breaks in and the child is 15, 16, 17 (years old) gets hold of your own weapon and uses it in the household for protection, also exempt." 

O'Connor said council should take a preliminary vote on the new bills next week.