HARRISBURG — When Pittsburgh passed restrictions on guns last month, it reignited a fight over which level of government should regulate firearms.
In recent weeks, two Republican lawmakers began pushing to strengthen the state’s control over gun regulations and make it easier for some groups, such as lobbyists, to recoup legal fees to fight cities’ rules.
At the same time, two Democrats are preparing legislation that would allow cities or counties to implement their own gun restrictions.
“Everyone has very strong opinions about guns and gun control,” said State Sen. Maria Collett, a Democrat from Montgomery County, who wants to give cities flexibility.
The fight for stronger state control
After roughly 13 minutes of discussion, the Senate’s Local Government Committee advanced a bill last month that would declare void local gun ordinances.
It would also grant standing in court challenges to gun owners and groups representing them.
“The sad thing is that we shouldn’t have to even be enacting this legislation, because it’s clear already that this is not permitted,” said Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., a Republican from Cambria County who is sponsoring the bill.
Several portions of state law declare that no municipality shall enact measures “dealing with the regulation of the transfer, ownership, transportation or possession of firearms.”
While supporters argue that uniformity in the law would protect gun owners from inadvertent violations of local rules, opponents say preemption prevents cities from protecting their residents.
Both Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto and Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney asked the Senate committee not to act.
“As the mayor of a city that has been particularly ravaged by the scourge of gun violence, I ask that you address the issue of the proliferation of both legal, and illegal guns, in Pennsylvania, and in the absence of such action, at least provide me with the ability to address these specialized concerns with local action,” wrote Kenney, a Democrat.
He added later: “It’s actually quite astounding how flagrantly this bill was designed to be a revenue generator for the gun lobby.”
Already, the NRA is supporting a lawsuit challenging Pittsburgh’s new ordinance limiting the bullet capacity of certain magazines. The city passed several measures in April in reaction to the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue.
Langerholc questions whether opponents would allow local regulation of abortion or workers’ rights.
Republican State Rep. Mark Keller of Perry County has introduced a bill similar to the Senate legislation. It says to cities that pass their own rules: “You dare not do that, and if you decide to do that, then you’re paying the bill,”Keller said.
Republicans have the majority in both chambers and control what comes to a vote. But Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has promised to veto bills that bar local gun control.
On the Senate side, Collett is planning to introduce a bill soon to let municipalities ban guns from their property, such as office buildings or parks. Some cities can restrict guns in buildings, but only if they have courtrooms.
"Private property owners have long been empowered to decide for themselves,” she said. “This bill simply permits local governments the same rights.”