Cities sue over Pennsylvania law allowing NRA to challenge local firearm restrictions in court

Pennsylvania's two largest cities sued the state on Monday over a new law that was designed to let the National Rifle Association challenge local firearms ordinances in court.

The lawsuit is the latest fight between Pennsylvania cities trying to curb gun violence and a legislature that has resisted new forms of gun control in a state rich with hunting tradition.

The lawsuit, filed by Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in Commonwealth Court, argues that lawmakers approved the measure in violation of state constitutional provisions designed to promote transparency in the legislative process.

"We'll fight this effort in every possible step. We're doing the right thing in trying to make people safe," said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. "The NRA is wrong again, as usual."

Other plaintiffs include the city of Lancaster and five Democratic lawmakers from Pittsburgh and the Philadelphia area.

State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery, said "the way this bill was passed was such an egregious violation of the basic rules of legislating that we felt compelled to act." He said the law allows the NRA "to sue our own citizens for protecting themselves and their communities."

In general, Pennsylvania bars its municipalities from enforcing firearms ordinances that are stronger than state law. But the NRA has complained that dozens of local ordinances go unchallenged in Pennsylvania courts by residents who can prove it harmed them.

Under the new law, a gun owner would no longer have to prove they had been harmed by the law to successfully challenge it, and "membership organizations" could stand in to sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member. The challenger also could seek damages, and the law's opponents fear a wave of expensive lawsuits against municipalities.

Both the NRA and the gun-control advocacy group CeaseFirePA said they knew of no similar law in any other state.

The lawsuit cites provisions in the constitution that say a bill should not be changed to alter its original purpose, and that no bill should contain more than one subject. Last month, the lawsuit provision was added to an underlying bill written to try to prevent the theft of wires, cables and other metals from businesses.

Within five days of it being amended, Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled House and Senate each passed the bill over the protests of most urban Democrats and some suburban Republicans.

Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who opposes gun-control measures, signed the bill last week, starting a 60-day clock before the law would take effect. A spokesman for Corbett's office said the governor's lawyers had not reviewed the lawsuit, while House Speaker Sam Smith said through a spokesman that he believes the bill met constitutional requirements.

Many of Pennsylvania's biggest cities require gun owners to tell police if a gun they own is lost or stolen, an effort to stop straw purchases of firearms for people who intend to use them in crimes.

Courts have struck down other municipal firearms ordinances — such as bans in Philadelphia on selling assault weapons or buying more than one handgun a month. The NRA has complained that legal challenges to the "lost and stolen" reporting laws were unsuccessful because courts said the plaintiffs could not prove they were harmed by it.


Levy reported from Harrisburg.