Pennsylvania Looks to Let Gun Owners and Groups Sue Municipalities

Pennsylvania’s Second Amendment proponents claimed victories last week as state legislature passes laws to let gun owners or groups sue municipalities to challenge local firearms regulations.

Gov. Tom Wolf, meanwhile, has vowed to veto both bills.

State representatives voted 134 to 53 on Wednesday, April 26, to approve House Bill 671 — a measure similar to the Senate’s SB 5, which passed 34-16 on Tuesday.

Justin McShane, an attorney at The McShane Firm and an Independent Program Attorney for U.S. Law Shield of Pennsylvania, said the bills would widen the definition of who can legally challenge local gun ordinances. Possible plaintiffs could be any gun owner, but could also be groups such as U.S. Law Shield of Pennsylvania.

The measures also discourage local governments from creating unreasonable gun-control ordinances by requiring them to reimburse attorneys’ fees and costs for filing the legal challenges, McShane said.

Both bills are similar to a law killed last year on technical grounds by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. The high court ruled that the previous bill, signed in 2014 by then Gov. Tom Corbett, had violated the “single subject” rule for legislative process, McShane said.

McShane reminded Members that his firm filed a suit against the city of Harrisburg under provisions in the previous bill. Click here, here, and here to read more about that legal challenge.

By week’s end, it wasn’t entirely clear what would happen next because the House and Senate, both controlled by Republicans, had passed nearly duplicate bills.

What was clear, however, was that Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, was set to veto the bills which, opponents believe, will protect taxpayers from unfairly bearing the costs of the legal reimbursements.

Supporters argued, however, that the bills would shore up existing law to ensure Pennsylvania has consistent firearms and ammunition laws. That was the legislature’s intent 30 years ago when it passed a preemption law on firearms to avoid a hodgepodge of gun regulations throughout the state.

Lawmakers’ concerns back then weren’t unfounded.

“Although Commonwealth law already stipulates that local governments cannot pass their own firearms laws, some communities have done so anyway,” said Rep. Mark Keller, HB 671’s sponsor. “As a result, citizens with no criminal intent are placed in danger of breaking rules they don’t know exist.”

Keller reminded supporters of the annual Second Amendment Rally, Monday, May 22, at 10 a.m. in the Main Rotunda of the State Capitol. —by Bill Miller, contributor, Texas & U.S. Law Shield blog


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