During the last week of June, the news was dominated by U.S. Supreme Court rulings on marriage equality, fair housing and health care.
But another decision handed down at the state level has important implications for Pennsylvania gun owners and municipalities that are looking to enact gun control laws.
On June 25, the Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court overturned a state law created earlier this year that allowed licensed gun owners to sue their communities over gun regulations. That law, called Act 192, also forced municipalities to pay the legal costs for those lawsuits.
Act 192 Targeted PA Gun Control Laws
In its ruling, the court said Act 192 was unconstitutional because it violated the “original purpose” and “single subject” rules of the state constitution.
The original purpose rule says a bill needs to stick to its original purpose throughout the legislative process. The single subject rule requires different topics within a bill to be related to each other.
In the case of Act 192, the law began as an amendment to the state crime code, setting penalties for the theft of metals like copper and aluminum. By the time that bill became law, it had expanded to give new rights to PA gun owners, allowing them to challenge their communities’ gun laws.
By turning an amendment dealing with theft into a law governing gun control, the legislature had thus violated the original purpose and single subject rules, the court found.
Act 192 forced dozens of communities around the state to repeal their gun ordinances.
“This was nothing more than an attempt to extort municipalities to repeal all of their gun laws. And it worked,” state Sen. Daylin Leach told PennLive.com after the ruling.
Leach was one of the Democratic lawmakers who sued to have Act 192 overturned last year.
“The law dealt with scrap and now it’s scrap,” said Rep. Stephen McCarter, a Montgomery County Democrat.
What Does this Mean For PA Gun Control and PA Gun Owners?
But is the law really scrapped? Republican lawmakers say they will likely appeal the state Commonwealth Court decision.
And the National Rifle Association maintains that local ordinances that veer away from PA gun control laws are illegal.
“The fact that an illegal ordinance exists is in itself harm,” Jonathan Goldstein, a lawyer representing the NRA in Pennsylvania, said in an interview with the public radio program Newsworks. “For many, many years, these gun control folks have been trotting around the state trying to get folks to pass these ordinances, notwithstanding the fact that they’re illegal.”
When Act 192 was passed, about 100 towns and cities in Pennsylvania changed their rules governing gun control rather than risk the cost of litigation.
Other communities were sued outright by PA gun owners.
The city of Harrisburg was the subject of two lawsuits earlier this year. The suits alleged Harrisburg’s firearms laws were illegal and that only the state had the authority to regulate guns.
According to Newsworks, communities either altered or rescinded their ordinances after hearing from PA gun owners or advocacy organizations.
Many of the laws required owners to report lost or stolen guns, or made it illegal for someone to carry a gun in a public park. Others prohibited the firing of guns, their possession by minors, or the selling of a gun during a state of emergency.
Now, some cities are preparing to reenact their ordinances. Others are waiting to take action due to the chance Act 192’s supporters will appeal the court decision.
But as Newsworks reported, legal experts say it’s unlikely Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court will overturn the Commonwealth Court ruling, because the original decision was clear and nearly unanimous.
Know Your Legal Rights
The story of Act 192 and PA gun owners shows how one court ruling or one piece of legislation or one court ruling can affect a wide range of people, people who might need the help of a lawyer to find out where they stand.
If you need quality legal services from attorneys with a broad range of experience, contact the Bucks County law firm of Penglase and Benson. Our attorneys can help you with civil litigation, criminal law, family law, commercial litigation, as well as liquor license, real estate and zoning cases. Contact us today to find out your rights.