Pennsylvania’s Act 192 Is a Test Case for Eliminating Gun Control Rules in Cities and Towns.
It all started about five years ago, when a group of Pennsylvania cities, frustrated with the difficulty of getting gun-law reforms passed in the Republican-controlled state legislature, started passing laws and ordinances on their own. Their highest priority was requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns—a law that was intended to make it harder for gun traffickers to claim, after a crime gun was traced back to them, that the gun had been lost or stolen before the crime was committed. Most of the states bordering Pennsylvania had such a law, but it was going nowhere in Harrisburg. Eventually, more than 100 towns and cities passed the requirement. “The state was not taking any action on it and by putting together support at the grassroots level and showing that mayors and council could take action, we hoped it would compel action at the state level,” says Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, who was on the city council at the time. “It’s the grassroots level that brings change to state capitals and then Washington, D.C.”
Such laws are anathema to the gun lobby, which argues they violate the Fifth Amendment’s bar against self-incrimination, since reporting a lost or stolen gun might implicate someone for other violations. Gun-rights advocates have also been peeved over another set of ordinances passed by Pennsylvania towns, banning guns from parks or other public areas, as well as by laws passed by Philadelphia that, among other things, limit assault weapons and gun ownership for domestic-violence abusers. Gun-rights groups argue that most of the local laws are in violation of a 1974 state law that bars municipalities against passing restrictions that are pre-empted by state gun laws. But they have had trouble getting the laws overturned, because that requires finding someone who can show injury from the laws to bring a lawsuit challenging them.
So the gun lobby got the state legislature to change the rules of the game. Late last year, Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a bill, loosely modeled on a Florida law, to make it possible for any state resident or any gun-rights group to which they belong to challenge local gun laws in court. The law, Act 192, is an explicit carve-out for gun-rights groups from customary legal procedures—challenges of school-prayer restrictions, for instance, are typically brought by actual students who can show that their rights have been infringed by the restrictions. Not only that, but the law requires that towns and cities pay the legal fees of any plaintiffs who successfully challenge their gun laws in court.