New Pennsylvania Law Gives State Preemption Teeth

January 14 2015
by Sam Cadle
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State Capitol Harrisburg

State firearms preemption can be a wonderful thing.  As someone who has fought hard locally for gun rights, I have used state preemption several times to get local government to change their tune and repeal laws.  The one problem that many individuals face though is that even though a local government may be breaking the law, there is no teeth to help to dissuade them from continuing to break state law.  To be able to file suit, would would have to prove harm by the local law.  There is also no monetary penalty for breaking the law, so many cites and counties just choose to do nothing, even telling people to just “break the law” and that they wont enforce their local law.

Now Pennsylvania has given their state preemption teeth and allows for individuals and representative organizations can sue local government into compliance, even allowing them to seek monetary relief.   This allows suits to be filed without needing to show harm, opening the flood gates to individuals taking on local government to get them to repeal their laws that are unenforceable anyway.

Taking on local government is not always easy, and many times results in more emotional arguments instead of just complying with the law.  When I took on my local county in 2009 the public comment at the council meeting was filled with fear-mongering and tears.  Never mind that the local law was against state law, unenforceable and made the county look like it was selectively enforcing laws.  Many people came to wail about the children and how the local parks would become “just like the OK corral” if the law was repealed.

I am sure there will be several huge legal battles in Pennsylvania over their new law.  But it is good to see states taking back the law from cities that choose to do as they please and sometimes the only way to do that is through their coffers.

Check out the local story here:

Barely a week after taking effect, a novel state law that makes it easier for gun-rights groups to challenge local firearms measures in court is already sparking change: Nearly two dozen Pennsylvania municipalities have agreed to get rid of their potentially problematic ordinances rather than face litigation.

Joshua Prince, an attorney for four pro-gun groups and several residents, cited the new law in putting nearly 100 Pennsylvania municipalities on notice that they would face legal action unless they rescinded their firearms laws.

At least 22 of those municipalities have already repealed them, or indicated they planned to do so, according to Prince, who specializes in firearms law and is based in southeastern Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania, which has a strong tradition of hunting and gun ownership, has long prohibited its municipalities from enforcing firearms ordinances that regulate the ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of guns or ammunition.

Gun-rights groups complained that scores of municipalities have ignored the 40-year-old prohibition by passing their own, mainly unchallenged gun measures.

Under the new state law, gun owners no longer have to prove they have been harmed by the local measure to successfully challenge it, and “membership organizations” like the National Rifle Association can stand in to sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member. The challenger can also seek damages.

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