Lady Justice should be blind, but all too often we see local politics and personal biases wiggling the fickle finger of fate. The meddling lawmakers do not seek what many would consider justice, but instead seeks to manipulate the process in an attempt to stack the deck against a fair hearing of the facts.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) has been a major force in assuring the defense and preservation of our Second Amendment rights at the federal level. Likewise, the NRA can be credited for significant victories at the state level. The danger for some has come at the local level; a tactic endorsed by Bloomberg and his anti-gun cronies.
To protect against biased local governments, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a law in 2014 that made local lawmakers a bit nervous. Local communities that passed draconian laws that conflicted with state laws or rights granted by the states could find themselves on the defendant line of lawsuits from the NRA. However, a state court struck down that law earlier this week. This was welcome news for communities such as Allentown and Bethlehem PA, but a threat to the Second Amendment rights of those communities’ citizens.
It is unclear how long local administrators will take, but pro gun citizens have been put on notice by Allentown Mayor Ed Pawlowski, “If the decision stands, I will proudly reintroduce our ordinances for council’s consideration and support.”
The legalese gets a bit deep, but goes something like this: The Commonwealth Court’s 7-0 ruling says Act 192 violated the state constitution’s “single-subject” rule, which prohibits unrelated topics from being cobbled together into a single piece of legislation.
The court said the provision, which gave any in-state or out-of-state organization, including the NRA, the ability to sue Pennsylvania municipalities over tighter gun laws had no bearing on the bill’s original intent, which dealt with scrap metal thefts. The law “clearly, palpably and plainly violates the single-subject requirement,” Judge Robert Simpson wrote for the court.
Democratic lawmakers, gun-safety advocates and municipal leaders—opposed to the Second Amendment as you may see it—hailed the decision. The 2014 law subjected multiple municipalities to lawsuits and prompted dozens of others, including Allentown and Bethlehem, to repeal various firearms statutes under fear of being sued. At the time, it was considered a victory for the Second Amendment, so we can only say it has to be a loss to lose these protections.
“This is a major victory for public safety and the rule of law in Pennsylvania and a major defeat for the NRA,” Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, said at a Capitol news conference. Leach used to work as a lawyer in Allentown and was a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.
Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, said municipalities now should have the courage to put their ordinances and resolutions back on the books. Like Leach, he bid good riddance to a law they believe was rammed through the Legislature as a favor to the NRA. “They were wrong,” Farnese said of its backers. “Very simply, they were wrong.”
“We respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling,” said Jonathan Goldstein, an attorney for the NRA. “We think the standard they applied creates an unworkable legislative process.”
“This law was clearly unconstitutional from the outset and designed to threaten Pittsburgh and other cities trying to protect their neighborhoods from illegal guns,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement.
To be fair, Pennsylvania has long history of prohibiting municipalities from enforcing firearms ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition. Like so many laws these days, it is not whether you have a law, but whether or not the local governments are following the law. Gun-rights groups complained that scores of municipalities ignored the 40-year-old prohibition by approving their own gun restrictions.
The fight is not over. For the gun-owning citizens of Pennsylvania and the gun rights groups such as the NRA, this was a battle, not the war. The Republican-controlled Senate expects to take the fight to the state’s highest court.
“We are reviewing the court’s decision and anticipate that we will file an appeal with the Supreme Court in order to vindicate the Legislature’s ability to enact meaningful changes to the law,” said Jenn Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre.
Some Keystone state lawmakers are getting it right or at least trying. Rep. Todd Stevens, R-Montgomery, introduced a separate firearms bill. Stevens’ bill would have required the Pennsylvania State Police to send existing mental health data of firearms applicants to the federal government’s electronic background check system.
The House passed Stevens amended bill, but unfortunately, it died in the Senate. While controversial to some, not wanting the government to have more information than necessary, all of the high-profile mass shootings have a strong link to mental health. The bill had at least a degree of merit, but would have challenges of it own.
As a result, the Senate later incorporated the NRA lawsuit provisions and Stevens’ mental health check plan into Metcalfe’s scrap metal bill, which passed Oct. 16, 2014. Four days later, the House approved the Senate version. Gun-rights groups quickly marshaled their forces and sued Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster. Leach and his supporters counter-sued, citing the constitution’s single-subject rule.
In legal papers seeking to dismiss the lawsuit, Republican lawmakers countered that the bill was not illegal because the theft of scrap metal and firearms issues both fall under Pennsylvania’s Crimes Code. Republicans challenged that the bill was legal because it was fully vetted during “the open and lively debate in both the Senate and House regarding the final version of Act 192.” However, the court disagreed and voided the entire law.
“The original purpose of [the bill] pertained solely to the penalties for the theft of secondary metal, while the final purpose was altered so as to include, among other things, creation of a civil action through which to challenge local firearms legislation,” Simpson wrote. “Clearly, these are vastly different activities.”