Langer Grogan & Diver attorneys Mary Catherine Roper, Kevin Trainer, and John Grogan recently filed an amicus brief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court on behalf of local governments, elected officials, and the Pennsylvania Municipal League in a fight over the rights of municipalities to enact and enforce regulations to stem the scourge of gun violence.
The brief urges the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to hear Armstrong v. City of Philadelphia, No. 81 EAL 2022, a case concerning whether Philadelphia may prosecute a straw purchaser of firearms under a local ordinance that requires all firearm owners to report the loss or theft of their firearm to law enforcement.
The Commonwealth Court struck down Philadelphia’s lost-or-stolen ordinance, concluding “that the regulation of firearms is an area where legislative activity is vested singularly and absolutely in the General Assembly of the Commonwealth.” But no statute from the General Assembly nor opinion from the Pennsylvania Supreme Court preempts such a broad swath of local authority or prohibits municipalities from enacting and enforcing certain commonsense gun regulations, including the regulation passed by Philadelphia in this case. Instead, in arriving at its conclusion, the Commonwealth Court relied on a series of its own decisions, each of which was based on a fundamental misreading of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 1996 opinion Ortiz v. Commonwealth. LGD’s brief asks the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to step in and correct the Commonwealth Court’s repeated mistakes.
“Preempting municipal rule strips from local governments and their residents the power to respond to all sorts of issues, including the increased gun violence and death that is now confronting many of their communities,” said LGD associate Kevin Trainer. He continued, “the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has consistently taught that preempting local rule is disfavored and that any preemption statute must be narrowly construed. No other approach respects the democratic values at the heart of local governance.”
Mary Catherine Roper further pointed out that “the Court that issued Ortiz never contemplated that its opinion would be used to strike down every form of narrowly tailored, localized firearm regulation. Organized special-interest groups like the National Rifle Association have invested heavily in the use of preemption as a litigating tactic, in part because a preemption argument keeps the public’s focus away from the violence and death in our streets.”
As gun violence continues to plague Pennsylvanians, all local governments must have the ability to act swiftly and decisively to protect their citizens and promote public safety. LGD expects that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision on whether to hear the case will be issued in the next few months.