Warning Shot: Lawmakers Reload Gun Bills Shot Down by the Court

Following the passage of a law in 2014 that went into effect this year with two provisions that affected Pennsylvanian’s gun rights, the legislation was declared unconstitutional this past summer and thrown out.

But that did not stop the authors of the original provisions from taking another shot.  Representatives Todd Stephens and Mark Keller are pushing their bills again.

Rep. Stephens re-introduced a bill this past July that would replace a law that was struck down as illegal June 25, 2015 by Commonwealth Court.

The Court struck down as illegal the 2014 law as violating the Commonwealth’s “single-subject” rule.  What that means is that lawmakers can’t tack on provisions that are unrelated to the original bill to make a single piece of legislation.  In this case, lawmakers had tacked onto a scrap-metal theft bill a provision that gave any in-state or out-of-state organization the ability to sue Pennsylvania municipalities over tighter gun laws, and a second provision that required Pennsylvania State Police to send existing mental health data of firearms applicants to the National Instant Criminal Background Checks System (NICS).

Under Stephen’s new bill, the Pennsylvania State Police would again be required to send all existing mental health data to NICS, a policy that could not be changed in the future, and which would prevent individuals from purchasing a firearm out of state if they had been committed involuntarily for mental health issues.

As it stands now, State Police voluntarily send mental health submissions to NICS at an average rate of 38,000 submissions per year, according to the Director of the Firearms Division for the Pennsylvania State Police, Lt. Mark Shaver.

The FBI reported that NICS denied 90,895 transactions in 2014, of which 3,557 were for mental health reasons.

The second provision that was struck down, the part allowing civil suits against municipalities challenging their gun laws, is also set to be brought back in a new bill.

Rep. Mark Keller issued a memorandum that he intends to revive his bill that would allow outside groups to sue municipalities for their gun restriction laws and recoup legal fees.

Keller stressed the content of the original legislation was not the issue. “It wasn’t thrown out because it was bad legislation or unconstitutional,” Keller said of the gun-related legislation. “That wasn’t the factor, so don’t let people hang their hat on that issue.”

The Commonwealth already has a preemption law that says no county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.”

Rep. Keller is concerned that as it now stands, Pennsylvania residents and those traveling through the state are charged with having to know each and every local jurisdiction’s gun restrictions, an unreasonable imposition in his opinion.

Supporters believe the law would stop the proliferation of patchwork gun regulations that could make law-abiding gun owners criminals when they visit a municipality and are unaware of different ordinances.  This time, the bill would give the cities 30 days to repeal their laws after notice before a lawsuit could be filed.

While Keller says his bill has bi-partisan support so far, new Gov. Tom Wolf, who criticized the previous bill in his campaign, is non-committal on the proposed legislation and won’t speculate on a bill that has not yet been introduced.

Keller reiterated that everyone knows what the Commonwealth laws are and they have to follow them, including municipalities.

A warning shot to the cities has been fired.


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