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Capitol recap: Lawmakers eye new version of overturned gun law

Written by Emily Previti, epreviti | Jun 21, 2016 11:45 PM
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(Harrisburg) -- Nearly 100 municipalities repealed their firearm ordinances in recent years due to a state law that made it easier to sue over local gun regulations.

The state Supreme Court just overturned the law, known as Act 192. And not 24 hours later, political leadership in Harrisburg was planning new legislation with a similar effect.

Like similar prior decisions, Monday's ruling focused on the way Act 192 was passed: firearms regulations were tacked onto a bill about something else entirely - specifically, the theft of metals.

But Monday's decision did not address the substance of those firearms provisions.

Drew Crompton is chief of staff for State Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati, a Republican representing eight rural counties in northern Pennsylvania.

Crompton says lawmakers will go about it differently this time - and he expects them to start soon.

"Municipalities don't want to comply with current law, and that has nothing to do with the court decision yesterday," Crompton says. "They want to do what they want, but that's not what the law says. ... They also don't want any enforcement mechanisms. If they do decide to do what they want, they want no ramifications for that. And therein lies the rub."

Gov. Wolf opposed the law struck down this week, according to his spokesman Jeff Sheridan.  So would Wolf veto a new version?

"It's premature to comment," Sheridan says. "But ... the governor's opposed to any law that makes it harder for municipalities to keep their residents safe."

Examples of ordinances that sparked legal challenges after Act 192's passage: requirements to report lost or stolen firearms and bans on carrying guns in parks, firing them in public, selling them during a state of emergency and possession by minors.

A few fought (Philly, Pittsburgh, Lancaster and Harrisburg) the lawsuits by gun groups (NRA, U.S. Law Shield, Firearm Owners Against Crime).

Harrisburg has a version of each of those, prompting two lawsuits that are still in play and have depleted the city's Protect Harrisburg Legal Defense Fund, city solicitor Neil Grover said Tuesday. 

Josh Autry is representing the capital city in the challenges from U.S. Law Shield and Firearm owners Against Crime.

Autry says he thinks Harrisburg will prevail, particularly absent Act 192.

But Autry also says if legislators pass a law that's retroactive while the case is still in play, the new law could affect the outcome or at least change the questions considered in the case.

The NRA still has a case pending against Lancaster, and was evaluating its options as of Tuesday afternoon, according to attorney Jonathan Goldstein.

Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh, officials are "willing to fight" to defend the city's ordinances, but "wary" of getting "bankrupted in court" if enforcement opens the door for gun groups to sue, according to Mayor Bill Peduto's spokesman Tim McNulty.

Editors note: WESA reporters Kevin Gavin and Patrick Doyle contributed to this report.

Published in Harrisburg, Lancaster, News

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