Pennsylvania court blocks avenue for NRA lawsuits

The decision blocks a new law that would have enabled membership organizations like the National Rifle Association to sue municipalities over local gun ordinances.

A Pennsylvania appellate court on Thursday struck down a 2014 law which allowed organizations like the National Rifle Association (NRA) to sue individual municipalities for enacting gun laws that were stricter than statewide legislation.  

The court said that former Gov. Tom Corbett and lawmakers in the Republican-controlled legislature violated the "single subject" rule laid out in the state’s constitution, which basically requires laws to address one main issue and prohibits them from being altered from their original purpose.

Under the measure – known as Act 192 – gun owners did not have to prove they were harmed by the ordinance to challenge it. The legislation also allowed "membership organizations" like the NRA sue on behalf of any Pennsylvania member and gave them the legal right to recover damages if they were successful.

What the appellate court said, however, is that the provision giving groups like the NRA increased legal right to sue had no bearing on the bill’s original intent, which was to establish criminal penalties for theft of secondary metals, such as copper wiring or cables.

The city governments of Pittsburgh, Lancaster, and Philadelphia, joined five Democratic lawmakers to sue Corbett to overturn the law under constitutional grounds.

"This law was clearly unconstitutional from the outset, and designed to threaten Pittsburgh and other cities trying to protect their neighborhoods from illegal guns," Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said in a statement issued after the ruling. "I'm overjoyed that the court system is joining us in standing up for citizens and public safety instead of special rights for the gun lobby."

The NRA used Act 192 to sue Pittsburgh, Lancaster, and Philadelphia over their gun ordinances earlier this year, but a judge stayed the lawsuits as the constitutional challenge went through, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported.

A number of other municipalities repealed their gun ordinances because of threat of possible lawsuits as they waited for the challenge to make its way through the legal system, reported the Allentown-based Morning Call.

It is still unclear whether an appeal to the court’s decision will be filed.

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