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Pennsylvania Bill to Enforce Firearm Preemption Against Scofflaw Governments

The Pennsylvania legislature is aiming to enforce their strong firearms preemption law. A similar enforcement law was enacted in 2014, but was struck down in 2016. The state Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had violated the state constitutional requirement for “single issue” statutes when the bill was passed.

On April 19, 2017, a replacement bill passed the House Judiciary committee by a 20-5 vote.

As with most states, Pennsylvania has a strong firearms preemption law. The statute has been on the books for over three decades. The preemption law requires that virtually all firearms law in Pennsylvania be uniform at the state level. Local governments are forbidden from passing a patchwork quilt of firearms regulations that can entrap innocent residents as they exercise their Second Amendment rights.

The preemption statute had no provisions for penalties or enforcement. It was presumed that local governments would follow the law. That was a bad assumption. Over 50 local governments have made a mockery of the rule of law by passing restrictive and illegal local firearm ordinances in Pennsylvania.

If the law was violated, affected private individuals and organizations that they belong to, could sue local governments for damages. The law passed by large, veto proof majorities, and was signed by Governor Corbett.

The law was opposed by the political class in large urban centers such as Philadelphia. In a bizarre turn, the Pennsylvania AG, Kathleen Kane, refused to enforce the law, and aided the cities in challenging the law in court. In 2016, the law was struck down as having passed the legislature improperly. In an ironic twist, Democrat Kathleen Kane was convicted of felonies while in office, in the same year the statute was struck down.

The current bill, HB 671, is essentially the same as the legislation that was struck down. From state.pa.us:

§ 6120. Limitation on the regulation of firearms and ammunition.

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(a.2) Relief.–A person adversely affected by an ordinance, a resolution, regulation, rule, practice or any other action promulgated or enforced by a county, municipality or township prohibited under subsection (a) or 53 Pa.C.S. § 2962(g) (relating to limitation on municipal powers) may seek declaratory or injunctive relief and actual damages in an appropriate court.

The 2014 bill passed by margins of 143 to 54 in the House, and 34 to 16 in the Senate.

It seems likely to pass again in 2017. The legislature will be careful to follow all the procedural requirements. But this time, a Democrat, Tom Wolf is the Governor. It is likely that he will veto the reform bill. His voter base is in the urban centers. The urban center’s political establishments have shown a strong desire to continue to violate the preemption law.

Republicans hold large majorities in the House and Senate. 123 to 83 in the House, and 31-19 in the Senate. It is unknown if enough Democrats would cross the aisle to override a veto.

©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included. Link to Gun Watch

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