Last month, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R) signed a relatively innocuous gun rights bill that now has anti-gun groups and politicians spinning in frustration. For years, Pennsylvania has had a firearms preemption law in place that prohibits municipalities from enacting more restrictive gun laws than the rest of the state. In many areas, however, municipal law is indeed stricter than the standards set by the state. HB 80 seeks to enhance the existing provisions by allowing advocacy groups to stand in place of a plaintiff in challenging municipal firearm laws and by lowering the standard by which a plaintiff could establish sufficient standing to bring the challenge to court. Anti-gun groups have decried the law as unprecedented and a money grab for advocacy groups like the NRA, but is this really the case?
Arguably the most important piece of HB 80 is the change to how courts are to assess standing in firearms cases. Prior to the passage of HB 80, any Pennsylvania resident who sought to challenge municipal law would likely have to first violate that law and be arrested or fined for doing so in order to establish standing. This is quite obviously a difficult situation as it needlessly raised the stakes for those looking to challenge municipal firearms laws. Why should someone need to risk jail time simply to challenge laws that might eventually be considered unconstitutional? HB 80’s new standard is that anyone “adversely affected” by the law will be granted standing in a case against the offending municipality. This is not to say that residents of Pittsburgh will suddenly be able to sue Philadelphia over anti-gun ordinances, but rather that residents of Philadelphia would be able to bring the city’s laws to court without first breaking them. This is a win for both citizens and law enforcement in Pennsylvania.
The other provision that has drawn the ire of anti-gun activists is the section that allows advocacy groups to stand in place of individual plaintiffs who seek to challenge municipal gun laws. This is where gun controllers have come to the conclusion that the law is aimed to fill the coffers of the NRA and other pro-gun groups. Reality actually tells a much different story.
Legal challenges are expensive endeavors that require quality attorneys and months of time. These are things that your average citizen rarely has. Now, the NRA or other groups will be able to help provide these pieces as Pennsylvania citizens seek relief from laws that run counter to the state’s established preemption clause. Attempting to right statutory wrongs should not cost citizens a fortune or thousands of hours in time. HB 80 is true common sense in that it allows someone else to handle the expenses and drive the ship for good Pennsylvania citizens who feel that municipalities have overstepped their bounds.
It’s time for the alarmists to slow down and take a breath. HB 80 simply provides a more palatable path for law-abiding gun owners in the Keystone State to bring local laws under the microscope.