GOP Will Try Again to Let NRA Sue Pennsylvania Cities

But would the bill make it past Tom Wolf's desk?
Background | Shutterstock.com

Background | Shutterstock.com

If at first you don’t succeed…

A Republican legislator is trying to revive a bill that would allow third-party organizations like to NRA to sue Pennsylvania towns and cities for having overly restrictive gun laws. An earlier version of the law was struck down in March by a Commonwealth Court panel that said the legislature had passed the bill in an unconstitutionally opaque fashion.

“The court’s decision was based merely on technical procedural rules, meaning that the substance of the legislation itself was never called into question,” Rep. Mark Keller, a Republican from South Central Pennsylvania, said in a memorandum to colleagues.

After Act 192 was adopted by the legislature in 2014, dozens of local municipalities repealed their gun control ordinances, rather than risk getting sued by the NRA, and getting stuck with big legal bills. Keller’s proposal reinstates the rules, but with an added wrinkle: Organizations could give cities and towns a month’s notice to repeal gun restrictions before bringing a lawsuit.

That’s not good enough for State Sen. Daylin Leach who opposed the original law and helped bring the legal challenge that knocked the original law out of commission.

“They’re at least trying to pass the bill in a constitutionally correct way this time,” he said, “but it’s still an awful bill.” He said it was “breathtaking” that Republicans might try giving an “out of state organization” the “right to sue our own people.”

But Keller said the bill is needed to bring statewide conformity to a jumble of local laws that, he said, have already been pre-empted by the state.

“Where no uniform state laws are in place, the result can be chaotic as restrictions change from one local jurisdiction to another,” he said in the memorandum. “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. ”

Leach, however, suggested the bill wouldn’t pass — not least because Gov. Tom Wolf would stand ready at the end of the process with a veto pen in hand. (Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican, signed the previous effort into law.) Leach noted that officials had had to gut a bill on copper wire theft in order to pass Act 192 originally; the court struck down the law just because of such subterfuge. It’s unlikely even a Republican-dominated legislature could pass the bill cleanly, he said.

“It’s not very popular to go back to your constituents and say, ‘Guess what? I passed a bill that allows you to be sued!'” Leach said.

Keller said he will introduce the bill “in the near future.”

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