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Pa. Supreme Court Says Gun Rights Groups Can Sue Municipalities That Enact Gun Safety Laws In Violation Of State's Preemption Laws

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- In a major legal victory for gun rights organizations, the state Supreme Court has upheld the right of organizations and individuals to sue municipalities that enact gun safety measures.

Pennsylvania has a state preemption law that forbids municipalities from enacting their own gun legislation. But many communities like Pittsburgh have tried to do so anyway, and that has brought lawsuits from gun rights groups like Firearm Owners Against Crime.

"I think it's an outstanding result," says Kim Stolfer, founder and president of FOAC.

"It's a dangerous decision that's going to make Pennsylvania communities less safe," says Josh Fleitman, western Pennsylvania manager for CeaseFirePA, a gun safety group.

In a 4-to-3 decision on Wednesday, the state Supreme Court ruled that Stolfer, an Allegheny County resident, and FOAC had standing or the right to challenge gun ordinances in the city of Harrisburg for violating the state preemption law without first breaking the law.

"The Supreme Court empowered every citizen in Pennsylvania, not just gun owners, to be able to challenge prior to being prosecuted and put in jail," Stolfer told KDKA political editor Jon Delano.

The city of Harrisburg requires gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms, prohibits firearms in parks, bans the discharge of firearms in the city, and prohibits minors from possessing a firearm.

Stolfer says these local laws are invalid because of the state's preemption law. Now he can challenge those ordinances in court.

"It's a century-old concept that says you can challenge a law prior to any enforcement action, and the city and the anti-gun groups in Pennsylvania were trying to say that didn't apply to citizens. We reject that premise, and so did the Supreme Court," says Stolfer.

"This Supreme Court decision is going to have a chilling effect on the local democratic process by striking fear into local lawmakers about lawsuits from people who don't live in the state even," says Fleitman.

Fleitman says this decision may discourage local municipalities from enacting common-sense gun safety measures.

"This Supreme Court decision expands the definition of standing to cover anybody really. You don't have to violate the law. You don't have to be impacted by the law. You can sue to undo any law you disagree with."

"And that's a really radical departure legally speaking," says Fleitman.

This state preemption law against local gun ordinances is controversial.

Last spring, Pittsburgh officials joined Philadelphia in challenging the preemption law, saying municipalities must be free to combat gun violence. That case is still pending in Commonwealth Court.

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