A Pennsylvania lawmaker reintroduced a bill last week designed to prevent the Commonwealth’s 2,500 municipalities from enacting gun ordinances more restrictive than state law.
House Bill 671, sponsored by Rep. Mark Keller, R-Perry, is a near-identical reboot of last session’s House Bill 2258, which corrected a previous proposal, Act 192, invalidated by the Supreme Court last year.
“It was very clear why the courts threw Act 192 out,” Keller said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on HB 2258 in September. “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.”
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 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.
HB 671, like its predecessor, remedies the single-subject argument because its stands as its own piece of legislation.
“Where no uniform state laws are in place, the result can be chaotic as restrictions change from one local jurisdiction to another,” Keller said in a memo circulated to House members last week.
“Where so many different ordinances are allowed to exist, citizens with no criminal intent are placed in danger of breaking restrictions where they don’t know they exist,” the memo continued. “Furthermore, it is unreasonable to require residents of Pennsylvania and citizens passing through from other states to memorize every firearm ordinance as they pass through each local jurisdiction. The end result is that citizens can be forced to incur significant expenses to hire attorneys to challenge these illegal and unconstitutional ordinances.”
Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, told Pennsylvania Newsworks she doesn’t believe the average person would consider varying gun regulations onerous.
“I don’t know who this bill will really help,” she said in an interview published Tuesday. “Except a couple of NRA and Firearm Owners Against Crime lawyers who file these lawsuits and stand to make money.”
Keller’s bill includes a 60-day window of notice from any individual or member organization of its intent to sue so that local officials can repeal the gun ordinance in question.
“Being a past municipal official … I did not want the municipalities to feel it was one of those mentalities of ‘I gotcha,’” Keller said while discussing HB 2258’s 30-day window provision last year.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has been unsupportive of previous preemption bills, including last year’s HB 2258.