Reading among communities to agree to rescind gun measures

Written by The Associated Press | Jan 12, 2015 8:12 AM

(Undated) -- Barely a week after taking effect, a Pennsylvania law that makes it easier for gun-rights groups to challenge local firearms measures is already sparking change.

An attorney for four pro-gun groups and several residents says he put nearly 100 Pennsylvania municipalities on notice that they will face legal action unless they rescind their firearms laws.

Attorney Joshua Prince says nearly two dozen municipalities have agreed to get rid of their potentially problematic ordinances rather than face litigation.

Pennsylvania has long prohibited its municipalities from enforcing their own gun laws, but many towns passed them anyway.

Under the new state law, "membership organizations'' like the National Rifle Association can sue a town on behalf of any Pennsylvania member.

Lancaster, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh have sued to overturn the new law, saying the legislation was passed improperly.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, is encouraging municipalities with gun laws to stand pat, at least until the legal challenge is resolved.

"We certainly understand that they feel threatened and concerned. We feel like they have been put in a terrible position by their representatives in Harrisburg," she said.

Reading City Council signaled last week it intended to repeal laws that ban firing weapons within city limits and require owners to report lost or stolen weapons. Officials said the city could ill afford a legal fight.

"We get ourselves in trouble in terms of trying to circumvent a state law," said Councilman Jeff Waltman. "We're not going to solve this with a local gun law anyway."

The city of Harrisburg plans to defend its ordinances, asserting they comply with state law. The measures ban gunfire anywhere in the city and weapons possession in city parks. There's also a reporting requirement for lost or stolen weapons.

Harrisburg's laws are intended to combat gun violence and have the support of the police chief, said Mayor Eric Papenfuse.

"I don't think it's the be-all and end-all of public safety, but I think it's an important tool to have, and it absolutely sends the wrong message to try to rescind those ordinances, especially given the epidemic of gun violence we have in cities like Harrisburg," he said.

Papenfuse denounced the new state law as representing "a fringe ideological view."

But gun activist Dave Dalton said no municipality has a right to flout Pennsylvania law. He said the law gives gun owners a tool to hold municipalities accountable.

"What gives a town or a city the authority to say, 'We're in Pennsylvania, but we don't care about Pennsylvania law?' It's laughable," said Dalton, founder of American Gun Owners Alliance in the Pocono Mountains, one of the groups represented by Prince.

The local laws have violated gun owners' rights without making anyone safer, said another of Prince's clients, Kim Stolfer, founder of Firearms Owners Against Crime.

"I think all of us are pleased it's a good start, that communities are starting to look at this," Stolfer said. Before gun groups were given standing to sue, he said, municipal officials "were just going to thumb their nose at a system that wasn't going to hold them responsible."

The NRA has not yet contacted any municipality, but said it's reviewing local ordinances to ensure they comply with Pennsylvania law.

Published in Harrisburg, Lancaster, News

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