PA governor promises to veto gun preemption bill moving through Senate

Guns

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he will veto a preemption bill aimed at firearm regulations should it get to his desk.

The Senate Local Government Committee advanced Senate Bill 5, a rebooted proposal invalidated by the Supreme Court last year, on a vote of 8-3, sending the measure to the full chamber for consideration.

During the committee’s meeting Tuesday, Minority Committee Chairman Sen. John Blake, D-Lackawana, delivered the veto news on behalf of the administration as he urged a no-vote on the legislation.

“Quite simply because I think this bill is doing something unprecedented in allowing a membership organization to sue a local government and allow injunctive relief,” he said. “When I consider the things our local governments are facing, I don’t know why we are considering this.”

The bill would prevent the state’s 2,500-plus municipalities from enacting gun ordinances stricter than state law. A similar measure was introduced in the House earlier this month.

“Municipalities must realize these local ordinances and regulations are in direct contravention with existing state law and severely impact the rights of law-abiding citizens of this commonwealth,” said bill sponsor Sen. Wayne Langerholc, Jr., R-Clearfield. “Senate Bill 5 is about uniformity across the state and ensuring the laws enacted by the General Assembly are taken seriously and followed.”

SB 5 seeks to correct Act 192 of 2014, which the state’s highest court threw out in a June 2016 ruling because it violated the single-subject rule.

In October 2014, state Republicans amended Act 192 into a scrap metal theft bill and sent it to then-Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk. Described at the time as the “strongest firearms preemption statute in the country” by the National Rifle Association, state Democrats, including then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane, balked at the notion of gun rights groups suing municipalities over local firearm ordinances.

The NRA filed suit against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster less than two weeks after Act 192 took effect in January 2015.

In Commonwealth Court later that same year, the bill’s detractors argued the law violated the state’s single-subject rule — meaning it addressed too many unrelated issues in the same bill. Six out of the panel’s seven judges agreed, overturning the law. The state Supreme Court upheld that decision in June.

“It was very clear why the courts threw Act 192 out,” said Rep. Mark Keller, R-Perry, sponsor of the House proposal, last year. “Not because of this particular law, but because of the single subject matter. That needs to be noted. The law itself is not unconstitutional. It’s the way it was put through.”

Senate Bill 5 remedies the single-subject argument because it stands as its own piece of legislation.

“This is the age old issue with preemption. … The municipalities should not have the ability to supersede what the General Assembly does with a local ordinance. They just shouldn’t be able to do that,” said Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Blair.

Some Democrats on the committee argued the bill was “in search of a problem that didn’t actually exist.”

“I’m really reluctant to tie their hands when they are facing these problems. They are certainly trying to protect the safety of their citizens,” said Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, of municipalities who have restricted firearms. “That’s like bullying these communities.”

Sen. Jim Brewster, D-Allegheny, who served as mayor of Mckeesport before he was elected to state office, scoffed at the notion that local gun ordinances prevented crime or enhanced public safety.

“I have a real bias against laws that don’t accomplish what they intend to accomplish,” he said, reflecting on his former years as a mayor. “If we thought it would have helped, we would have imposed an ordinance.”

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