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.