Pattye Benson

Community Matters

Pending HB 1523 Legislation Would Allow NRA Lawsuits Against Philadelphia

Due to the Marcellus Shale drilling debate, the amended PA House Bill 1523 is now scheduled for second consideration in the state House of Representatives on Monday, February 13.

The passage of HB 1523 to the House included an important amendment approved by the state Judiciary Committee. The amended HB 1523 legislation would grant legal standing to “a membership organization … that is dedicated in whole or in part to protecting the legal, civil or constitutional rights of its membership.” What exactly does this mean? The language would seem to give an organization, say the National Rifle Association (NRA), the same rights as a person when it comes to suing a town or city for enacting local gun reporting regulations. The protection of Second Amendment rights is the mission of the NRA.

Because the state legislature never adopted a statewide law requiring the reporting of lost or stolen guns, 30 municipalities across the state, including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster, have taken local action in support of lost or stolen gun reporting. The NRA has challenged the local gun reporting legislation in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh multiple times and the Pennsylvania courts have repeatedly rejected the gun lobby’s challenges.

Pennsylvania House Bill 1523 could be a watershed moment for the NRA in Pennsylvania. Rather than continuing to take on individual cities or towns over their local gun reporting ordinances, according to the organization’s website, the NRA-backed HB 1523 “… would strengthen Pennsylvania’s firearm preemption law to further ensure firearm and ammunition laws are uniform throughout the state.” The pending legislation in the state House would allow the NRA to sue any Pennsylvania city with a lost or stolen gun reporting law.

Like the NRA, Kim Stolfer, Chairman of Firearms Owners Against Crime (FOAC) and a pro-gun leader in Pennsylvania, supports HB 1523. A gun owner rights advocate, Stolfer has posted a number of comments on Community Matters, including

“Our freedoms were carefully drawn up to protect citizens from the vicissitudes of the masses who, history has shown, can be easily manipulated. We are a nation governed by the ‘rule of law’ with the motto of ‘Justice for All’. House Bill 1523 will simply provide that a citizen can hold accountable these local communities that exceed their authority and violate Pennsylvania crimes codes and the Constitution.”

Cities and towns across Pennsylvania have taken action to crack down on illegal gun trafficking, but this Monday, Harrisburg could take a step closer to overturning these local decisions. HB 1523 threatens to punish cities and towns for taking local action to crack down on illegal gun traffickers and straw purchasers. Philadelphia and the other cities could face financial penalties for enacting their own gun-control measures that supersede state law. The bill would allow any gun owner (or the NRA) challenging the local ordinance to collect legal fees and damages from the city that passed such an ordinance.

CeaseFirePA joins other organizations, including the state associations of chiefs of police, district attorneys, county commissioners and the League of Cities and Municipalities in opposing HB 1523. On Friday, the organization released an Impact Analysis of HB 1523 (PDF) and I was provided with a copy.

Regardless of how you feel about gun control, CeaseFirePA makes an interesting point to show how financially draining gun owner and gun group lawsuits could be on Pennsylvania cities and towns that are already strapped by tough economic times. As a result of HB 1523, potential lawsuits could actually drain “government revenues from much-needed services, like keeping police on the street.” The claim from CeaseFirePA is that local governments with gun reporting ordinances may feel ‘blackmailed’ by the threat of lawsuits from gun owners and gun groups, and therefore will simply rescind their ordinances.

CeaseFirePA director Max Nacheman contacted me in regards to the pending legislation and provided the following statement for Community Matters on the proposed legislation:

HB 1523 is an unprecedented attempt by the NRA to seize power in Pennsylvania and legislators should be ashamed for even considering such a callous, dangerous proposal. Communities across the state are literally in a life or death struggle to reduce gun violence — but instead of supporting their efforts, the legislature is helping the gun lobby attack them. If passed, HB 1523 would allow the NRA as an organization to bring frivolous lawsuits against cities that are trying to crack down on illegal gun trafficking — and would set a dangerous precedent in Pennsylvania of allowing lobbyists to use the courts to pursue their own political agenda.

These “representatives” aren’t just turning their backs on their communities, they are actively trying to hurt them. Among others, State Rep. Tom Caltagirone attacked his home city of Reading by co-sponsoring the bill, and Rep. Todd Stephens abandoned his hometown of Ambler by voting in favor of it in the Judiciary Committee.

Now that more attention has been called to this NRA plot to punish cities for fighting gun crime, it remains to be seen if other suburban legislators like freshman Representative Warren Kampf will stand up to protect his community, or defend his NRA letter grade instead, like so many of his colleagues.

For the record, I sent a follow-up email to Rep Kampf in regards to his views on the HB 1523, asking whether or not he intends to support the pending legislation. To date, there has been no response to either of my emails.

If reporting lost or stolen guns would help the local police with gun trafficking and crack down on straw purchases, I remain at a loss as to why responsible gun owners would not support keeping illegal guns off the street by reporting a gun missing or stolen to their local police department.

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  1. Pattye: To answer your question at the end of your post, it is because this is NOT about the right of an individual citizen to keep and bear arms for Constitutionally protected reasons…it is about the income of a multi-billion dollar arms industry, which depends in large part on the ability to fly under the radar, as guns are trafficked in our mall parking lots, gun shows and other venues. Any system that allows us to recognize that there are 270 million guns floating around the US (in private hands, as opposed to the 3 million total in the armed forces and 900,000 for all law enforcement) is opposed by this industry, and reporting missing and stolen weapons might just show us how absurd the situation really is. At some point, we must ask where the Constitutional provision reasonably ends…do we really need 270 million guns?

  2. Nacheman is a coward. Its easy to blame the faceless NRA, but where is Max when he’s confronted by me on his Facebook page? Easy–he deletes my posts and bans me from future post. How about my friend Kim Stolfer? Same story. I’m calling you out, Max, anytime, anywhere, for an honest debate about HB 1523 and the absurd amendments offered up by the usual suspects; Curtis Thomas, Waters, et. al. Rather than bore you to tears with the full text of those amendments that you and your lackeys are prepared to offer on Monday, here’s what I sent to my representative. By the way, he’s going to smack you down hard on every amendment offered.

    “Dear Rep. Maher:
    John, I’ve just now had a chance to review certain proposed amendments to HB 1523, and was absolutely floored that some rocket scientist actually believes that its possible to micro stamp a lot number on a projectile that will survive an impact with anything, be it ballistic gelatin, the dirt backstop at your local range, or God forbid, the bad guy who was just moments ago ready to cut your throat. The idea that I’m going to toss out every round I have in my possession, including rounds I’ve reloaded, is absurd. Please kill all of the amendments. I can’t find one that makes any sense whatever.

    Frankly the amendments speak to a Commonwealth provision for Lost or Stolen arms, and when its mandatory to report, and to what agency. If the anti gunners want Lost or Stolen, I insist they draft a bill, and put it up as a stand alone agenda item. I think then we’ll find that 96% of Pennsylvanians want nothing to do with Lost or Stolen. The language of the amendment for trigger locks is written so poorly, that if passed, defensive handguns carried by honest citizens would require a locking device. Imagine this scenario—“hold on Mr. Bad Guy, while I get the key out of my pocket and unlock my gun so I can defend myself. Just give me a minute, would you?”

    Ballistic identifiers! Junk science. A couple of states have a requirement that when you buy a gun, a factory fired case be sent to the state police (Maryland comes to mind). I guess I don’t have to tell you that with a jillion cases on file, they have yet to solve one crime using fired cases. Ballistic identifiers are so easily modified just by repeated firing of gun, that the concept is impossible.

    Slain officers fund? My son’s a patrolman in Brentwood. He has insurance, as do many police officers. Funeral expenses are not now, nor will they ever be, an issue. Its just more anti gun CeaseFirePA “stuff” to delay passage of HB 1523.

    Waters proposes that cities of the first class may ban anyone (See A08586, lines 15 through 22) other than a dealer from possessing an assault weapon. That of course begs the question, what is an assault weapon? If I run someone over with my Chevy, the Chevy is an assault weapon. This is a rehash, and a very poor one, of an assault weapon ban proposed by Curtis Thomas in May of 2010. When challenged in Judiciary Committee hearings as to why his ban was necessary, he responded “because we can’t put all the criminals in jail.”

    Finally, in A08587, here we go again with the non-existent Florida loophole. If Philadelphia would adhere to the spirit of Licenses to Carry Firearms, A08587 would be a non issue.

    I’m not going to go into more detail, I’m only going to ask that you fight hard to get HB 1523 through as a clean bill.
    Best Regards,
    John DeLallo

  3. Pattye,

    Please forgive me, but I have to laugh at portions of your post on HB1523.

    The point Cease Fire Pa makes about this law being financially draining to the municipalities that have crafted these “ILLEGAL” laws has got to be a joke. If anyone, including municipal governments insist on breaking the law and then are surprised that move will be financially draining, they are so out of the main stream of reality, they shouldn’t be in the positions they are in. To quote Gibbs in the TV series NCIS when his fellow agent, Tony DiNozzo states something painfully obvious, “Ya think DiNozzo.” To break the law and then whine about it costing a lot of money to defend yourself against it, is about as childish a move as I can think of.

    Another humorous point, Max Nacheman accuses the NRA of a power grab, another unbelievable statement. The NRA, FOAC and other gun rights groups are working to reverse the power grab the municipalities are attempting to make. WHAT DON’T YOU PEOPLE UNDERSTAND? IT IS ILLEGAL!!!” for these local governmental entities to do what they are doing and they are going to be called into account for it. And yes it will cost them money. Are we a nation of laws or do we just all do what we want?

    And Pattye, your phrase, “I remain at a loss as to why responsible gun owners would not support . . . ” the logic and rational surrounding HB1523, has been explained quite well by Kim Stolfer and John DeLallo over and over again, but your apparent liberal frame of mind refuses to accept it.

    1) We are a nation and state of laws
    2) One of the national and state laws is individual citizens have the right to “Keep & Bear Arms”
    3) One of the state laws is only the state legislature can make laws concerning the ownership and transportation of those firearms.
    4) Local governing bodies are disobeying that law
    5) HB1523 will provide the necessary teeth to stop their illegal law making.

    I will use another line, this time from a GEICO commercial. “It’s so easy a caveman could understand it”

    Robert Oles

  4. Methinks the gun rights militant doth protest too much. In doing so, he shows himself to be unreasonably angry and unbalanced.

    He (secretly) knows most Americans support reasonable gun safety laws that don’t infringe on an individual’s right to own guns. That most people are angrier about the level of senseless gun violence than they are about the “trampling” of our (God-given?) 2nd amendment rights.

    John, please cite your 96% source. Was the sample limited to NRA members?

    To reasonable people of all political persuasions, a local lost or stolen law does not limit gun ownership rights – though it potentially differentiates law-abiding citizens from illegal straw purchasers and require gun owners to be responsible for keeping track of their deadly weapons.

    A little gun “history”….. Two months ago, the state PA Supreme Court refused for a second time to hear the National Rifle Association`s challenge of Pittsburgh`s lost-or-stolen gun ordinance.

    The 2008 ordinance requires gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to police within 24 hours of discovering the firearms are gone.

    The NRA claimed the ordinance violates a state law that prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms. So far, the organization hasn`t had a chance to argue that point.

    In July 2009, an Allegheny County Common Pleas Senior Judge threw out the lawsuit, ruling the NRA lacked legal standing to challenge the law because the ordinance had not affected it or the four Pittsburgh gun owners who also were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Commonwealth Court upheld the decision.

    Then the state Supreme Court refused to hear the NRA`s challenge in June of 2011. Finally, last December the Court refused to reconsider that decision.

    You see the progression here….

    NOW the NRA has “persuaded” the House Judiciary Committee to add an amendment to HB 1523 giving them standing to sue municipalities.

    And the time is right. With a Republican-controlled legislature and a governor more attuned to lobbyists than the citizens of PA, it’s a GO – with Tom Caltagirone, a Democrat from Reading, is the pawn/ lead man.

    Plagued by gun violence, Reading is one of the municipalities that enacted a lost and stolen ordinance. Caltagirone is throwing his own constituents under the bus! Shame on you, Rep. Caltagirone. I hope your voters turn you out in November.

    I’m not going to go into more detail. I’m just asking you to contact your state rep and let him/her know H.B. 1523 is a bad bill driven by corrupt pro-gun groups more concerned with gun revenue and unfettered access to weapons than the safety of Pennsylvanians.

    See how PA stacks up on gun laws and check out the rate of gun violence in the states with the strictest gun laws. The stricter the laws, the lower the rate.

  5. Thanks Kate. I know zero about this issue, and am happy to have ways to learn more. Major Gun Show today in the Oaks….parking lot was filled….what is it that draws people to want to own more and more guns? You can only shoot them one at a time, right?

    1. I can answer both of your questions, Township Reader.

      First, people want more and more guns because there are an unlimited number of uses for guns and a limited number of things each gun can do.

      Second, most people can shoot guns two at a time.

  6. The wording of this Bill is sloppy. It gives “person[s] adversely effected” the right to bring an action against and recover damages and attorneys fees from municipalities that enact certain gun ordinances. The Bill defines a “person adversely effected” as someone who, among other things, “is or . . . would be subject to the ordinance.” Only a gun owner who has lost a gun or had one stolen is or would be “subject to” an ordinance requiring persons whose guns are lost or stolen to file a report. So, not just any gun owner has standing to challenge a lost or stolen law under HB 1523 — only those who can allege they have lost a gun or had one stolen. And a membership organization, like the NRA, only would have standing if it can allege that one of its members lost a gun or had one stolen because only organizations that “include a person described under this paragraph” — that is, a person who is or would be subject to the ordinance — have standing to bring a claim. Maybe that is what the drafters of the Bill intended, but I doubt it.

    I also find it odd that the drafters of the Bill are singling out for protection one Constitutional right — Second Amendment rights — over all others. Why not expand the Bill to permit those who successfully challenge unconstitutional redistricting plans (as happened last month) to recover damages and attorneys’ fees? Why not permit those who successfully challenge unconstitutional local ordinances that restrict speech, restrict access to abortions, fail to separate church and state, etc., to recover damages and attorneys’ fees? Either support legislation that encourages people to challenge all unconstitutional local laws by allowing them to recover damages and attorneys’ fees, or stop using the protection of Constitutional rights as a pretext for a partisan agenda.

  7. For the record, I am a firm believer in the 2nd Amendment and have little doubt about what the Founders intended when they wrote it. But can someone explain to me how a simple question about responsible gun ownership immediately became a forum on the Constitution?

    When my father first handed a gun to me, I was either 8 or 9, he told me it was one of the greatest responsibilities I would ever have. If your weapon is stolen you have the responsibility to do everything you can to make sure that it is not misused, and I would think reporting the theft would be the very least you could do.

    As leery as I may be about additional laws, I don’t have any problem with someone who doesn’t report a gun theft being charged with a crime.

    Whatever happened to civic responsibility?

    1. Isn’t it also a civic responsibility for politicians to obey the laws? In case you have not read the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pa. it is not legal to pass laws that are in direct conflict with OUR Pa. constitutional right to bear arms. Perhaps you are confusing the US constitution with the Pa. constitution which leaves no doubt as to my rights and responsibilities. To defend irresponsible politicians who think that they should be allowed to do as they please is a sad thing. ANYBODY that wants the laws changed should try doing it LEGALLY instead of “under the radar”. Rogue politicians that cause municipalities to suffer financial distress should in turn sue those arrogant politicians to recoup their costs. Or…perhaps they should employe competant lawyers that actually know the law and OUR constitution.

      1. If it is illegal to make the laws, then why do you want yet another law to tell them so…..get yourself standing by breaking the law, and spending the money and effort to challenge it with standing. Don’t bribe legislators who because of the broken political system have to spend half their day raising money to run again. Let them do some work and you spend your money in the courts WHEN these laws that so offend you actually affect you.

        1. Perhaps you are again confused by the polititians that are running amuck. They are illegally causing law abiding citizens grievious harm. Not everybody has the resources to defend against the illegal harrassment by those that declare themselves to be dictators.

          Hold those that are causing the problem liable for their actions. Make the criminals pay via their constituents and it will not be long until those citizens start to DEMAND that their elected officials quit playing the role of gods that are willing to turn the law abiding into felons.

          PERHAPS you crave to be illegally arrested (which often includes threats of public execution), to be illegally prosecuted, to be forced to spend spend thousands on your defence, to be fired from your job, to be illegally imprisoned, to have your good name smeared and then to have to fight to clear that good name and then to have to fight to have your right to bear arms restored.

          Laws that punish the lawbreakers are welcome here. Quit with the desire to punish the innocent. I am a law abiding and responsible gun owner.

          Me? I think that the problem needs to be fixed.

          Me? I do not think the wicked ought to be rewarded in their thirst for power.

          By the way those illegal laws DO AFFECT ME but I cannot do anything until grievious harm is caused.

          Our rights as citizens of the Commonwealth of Pa. should not be subject to the whims of those that do not like hunting, the shooting sports, self defence or the law of the land.

  8. What I am curious about is whether or not those who are against HB1523 would feel the same if a law was passed saying that all sport utility vehicles were to be banned from certain towns. If you drove through that town with these highly dangerous gas guzzlers you would be arrested and procecuted (or possibly imprisoned) as a felon. Is that right? Of course… those that dislike sport utility owners.

    A politician does not like certain vehicles and so they do all that they can to turn you into a felon and that is just?

    Why don’t they simply enforce the laws that we have? Wouldn’t that be a unique answer? Punish the lawbreaker and leave the innocent alone.

    Why should gun owners have to fight against illegally passed laws? The courts should not accept such cases to begin with. Who should be punished? Those who broke illegally passed laws or those whose sole purpose is to selectively punish those who enjoy freedoms that others do not like?

    The idea of passing illegal ordinances is to financially drain those who exercise freedoms that others dispise. It is time to turn the tables on the irresponsible politicians that think that the USA is THEIR kingdom.

  9. Update: I have received a response from Rep. Warren Kampf in regards to pending HB 1523 legislation and I thank him.

    Rep Kampf is continuing to gather information on the legislation and reports that there are now 13 additional amendments to consider. In his response to me, he stated,

    “I do recognize the importance of safe communities, and I also do not want public officials enacting clearly illegal or unconstitutional ordinances.”

  10. Tim
    Please educate me as to how you are affected by this requirement to report lost or stolen firearms despite admitting you have not been grievously harmed. Seriously — HOW does it affect you? I’m being quite genuine in this. I cannot fathom why this law, which you claim is illegal and unconstitutional, can have any affect on you at all unless you intend to lose (or illegally sell) or steal a gun and don’t want anyone to know about it.
    Instead of being righteously indignant, how about being candid?

    1. I agree, it is HB 1523 that is illegal and unconstitutional not the gun reporting ordinances. NRA money is certainly calling the shots in Harrisburg (no pun intended)

      1. Anonymous….your opinion is just that….opinion. Please start your self education with the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pa. to determine which laws are legal or illegal. IT IS VERY EVIDENT if you take about 3 minutes to read the law.

  11. First off I do not need a law to tell me that I want my property back. I do not need a law to tell me that felons should be punished. That is common sence.

    I do not need a law that allows politicians with a chip on their shoulder and hatred for law abiding citizens to cause me grievous harm by passing illegal laws. That is common sence.

    I question the wisdom that says that politicians should be allowed to violate laws with impunity. Why is it that you are not SCREAMING from the rooftops for the Obama administration to prosecute those involved in the criminal acts that got Brian Terry killed? The hundreds of dead Mexicans are almost an after thought to Holder. So what? They are only dead Mexicans that the USA conspired to kill.

    The end does not ever justify the means when our politicians become the criminals.

    An example of grievious harm? Last year the cops threatened to publicly execute a law abiding citizen for legally carrying a gun in Philly. He was found innocent of all charges in the case. Can’t get much more grievious than that except if the cops who were instructed to illegally detain and harrass the law abiding had actually pulled the trigger.

    It would be a great gesture if law enforcement pursued the criminals and left the law abiding alone. We do not need a Fast and Furious conspiracy in Pa. Lawful actions are what we need AND DEMAND.

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