The NRA is coming, folks. It will have your tax dollars or your submission to its pro-gun agenda — and, by God, maybe it will have both.
Here’s what the bill does: It discourages Pennsylvania cities and municipalities from passing gun laws that are more restrictive than state-level gun laws, or from keeping such laws that are already on the books.
Here’s how the bill does that: It lets people sue Pennsylvania cities and municipalities with those too-restrictive gun ordinances.
And here’s who can sue: Gun owners — as well as any “membership organization” whose members are gun owners in compliance with state law, whether or not those members have actually run afoul of the local laws or not, or whether they even care or not.
That’s right: “Membership organization.” While the definition could, I suppose, technically apply to the Boy Scouts, we all know what House Bill 1243 really means: It gives the NRA the right to sue Pennsylvania’s cities and municipalities.
Which means that even if nobody in Philadelphia dislikes or considers themselves adversely affected by the city’s gun laws, that’s OK: The NRA can sue — and it can win without having to show that anybody actually had their rights violated.
That’s astonishing. It’s appalling. And it’s also utterly unsurprising. The NRA doesn’t just represent our fellow citizens anymore: Under this legislation, it effectively becomes one of those fellow citizens.
“It creates standing (for the NRA) where there was none,” Shira Goodman, executive director of Philadelphia-based CeaseFirePA, told Bloomberg. “This is a special gift to the NRA from the legislature. Now you have a deep pocket that can sue little towns and boroughs.”
Nonprofit agencies sue government agencies all the time. But they don’t do it on their own. The ACLU, for example, is currently suing Philadelphia because police keep arresting and interfering with people taking pictures of cops — taking those pictures is supposed to be protected under the law. But the ACLU always sues on behalf of an injured party — somebody who actually got arrested for taking pictures, say. Under the new bill, the NRA doesn’t have to find a plaintiff to testify to wrongdoing — all it has to do is look at a city’s laws and decide it doesn’t like the cut of the city’s gib. That’s a rare privilege, one that the NRA hasn’t demonstrated it deserves.
That “corporations are people, my friend” attitude is annoying enough. (Corporations have the rights of political expression and religion, these days, but rarely ever the responsibilities of a flesh-and-blood citizen; this is just another example of that awful trend) It is much worse, though, when married to the NRA’s sensibilities.
I get that the Second Amendment guarantees the right to bear arms. But there are subsets of people that we as a society have decided are largely exempt from those guarantees — the mentally ill, for example, and ex-cons, usually. Many law-abiding gun owners can agree with those restrictions!
That leads to one example of an area where state gun law isn’t restrictive enough, and Pennsylvania cities have had to step in. As Rep. Dan Frankel said on the House floor the other night, some of those cities have passed laws that require gun owners to report to police when a firearm is lost or stolen from them. It’s a useful tool in helping law enforcement trace (and even prevent) the use of firearms in deadly crimes.
That’s not a requirement that remotely infringes on the right to bear a firearm — it just demands a tiny bit of responsibility in return. But the NRA opposes such requirements, and so does the Pennsylvania Legislature. Under House Bill 1243, the NRA could sue cities that are trying to protect their citizens with that tiny, commonsense piece of law.
If the bill passes into law — Gov. Corbett has said he will sign it — the Legislature will prove one thing with certainty: Its allegiances are to the NRA and not to its own constituents.
Those constituents, remember, are the same voters who elect the city councils and other local boards that have adopted the ordinances the NRA seeks to overturn. If those voters wanted different laws, they could’ve elected officials who wanted them changed. They didn’t. Which is why the NRA is using state legislation to work its will at the local level.
There’s still time for the Pennsylvania Senate to veer from this path. The NRA, in fact, has helpfully published a list of Senate Judiciary Committee members and their contact information — there’s no reason you can’t use the list, too, if you’re opposed to this bill.
And you should be. You can support gun rights and still see this bill as a dramatic and dangerous overreach by the National Rifle Association. The good news? It’s not too late to stop it. Otherwise, the NRA will have your tax dollars and your city’s submission.
Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.