Kane won't defend NRA-backed law on firearms restrictions against Pennsylvania cities' lawsuit

Associated Press

Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane is leaving it to the governor's office to defend a lawsuit challenging a National Rifle Association-backed law that was designed to dismantle illegal municipal firearms ordinances, officials said Friday.

A spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett said the governor's legal office will defend the law against the challenge led by Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster. Kane's office sent word earlier in the week that she would not take the case.

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Corbett, a Republican who opposes new forms of gun control, signed the law last month. The law widens the ability of the NRA or gun owners to successfully sue over municipal firearms ordinances.

"We can find no legitimate reason for the attorney general to decline to defend the commonwealth in this case," said Corbett's spokesman, Jay Pagni.

The law takes effect in the coming weeks, and opponents fear it will unleash a wave of expensive lawsuits against dozens of cities and towns that have sought to curb gun violence but bumped up against a Legislature that has resisted new gun control measures.

However, Corbett leaves office Jan. 20 after losing last month's election, and he will be replaced by Democrat Tom Wolf, who has said he opposes the law. On Friday, a spokesman would only say that Wolf will review all existing litigation once he takes office.

Kane's office said it was more efficient and in the best interest of Pennsylvania for the governor's lawyers to defend the law. Last year, Kane, a Democrat, refused to defend Pennsylvania's law banning the recognition of same-sex marriage against a federal lawsuit. Corbett's office unsuccessfully defended the law, and it was struck down in May.

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 they harmed them.

Under the new law, gun owners 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.

Pennsylvania's Republican-controlled House and Senate each passed the bill over the protests of most urban Democrats and some suburban Republicans.

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

The lawsuit, filed Nov. 10, does not challenge the aim of the law. Rather, it argues that lawmakers approved the measure in violation of state constitutional provisions designed to promote transparency in the legislative process.