Last week I mentioned a bill up for a vote in the state House any day which would nullify local laws requiring that lost or stolen guns be reported to police. This is a serious issue and leads to high crime, murders along with anguish and grief for the families affected.
Gun traffickers do business by purchasing large quantities of guns, especially handguns whose sole purpose is the killing of humans, and reselling them on the street or to other dealers. Pennsylvania has no restrictions on the number of guns which can be bought at one time and does not require that lost or stolen guns be reported. After selling these handguns on the street if they are used in a crime the purchaser simply says they were lost or stolen. If mandated reporting were the law police would be able to track these gun dealers and convict them. Not having mandatory reporting only feeds the violent crime in cities throughout the Commonwealth.
This is simple, common sense gun safety. No sportsman should have any complaint about having to report to police if a gun is lost or stolen. In fact it protects them is that gun is actually lost or stolen and then used in a crime. I had a Colt 38 stolen years ago when I lived in Delaware and it never occurred to me NOT to report it to police. Every year I get a letter from the Delaware State Police asking if I regained possession of the firearm.
Since the state legislature hasn’t acted on this important issue various cities have enacted their own ordinances requiring the policy. The NRA then sued Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in court seeking to have their laws struck down. They lost, partly because they lacked “legal standing” to even bring suit.
HB 1523 would provide that legal standing and render local laws null and void. While Philly gets nicknamed “Killadelphia” for the widespread murder rate, fueled by racism, lack of education and jobs, the proliferation of cheap guns on the streets results in people losing their loves. This is senseless and the fact our legislature is adding to the problem and hiking the murder rate is outrageous. No one whose life has been touched by homicide, as mine has, can sleep at night knowing how irresponsible some of our legislators are when it comes to public safety. These include some urban State Representatives such as Thomas Caltagirone (D-Allentown Archdiocese).
CeasefirePA is strongly opposing this bill and we all urge you to contact your lawmakers in Harrisburg and urge them to vote NO.
H.B. 1523 would set a dangerous precedent for the legislature to rewrite legal principles to favor special interests in a way that creates two unequal justice systems in Pennsylvania, and that would drain scarce taxpayer funds and harm local governments and residents. Regardless of how one feels about firearms regulation, anyone concerned with local governments and their need to do more with less during tough economic times should oppose this legislation, as should anyone in support of equal justice under the law.
As background, the National Rifle Association has already drained resources from the cities of Pittsburgh and Philadelphia by litigating a losing lawsuit to try to strike down an ordinance that did not restrict how guns are lawfully possessed, purchased, or used, but simply required gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to law enforcement. The NRA’s lawsuit to strike down that ordinance was rejected by every court that heard it, up to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. Under established Pennsylvania law, the NRA did not have standing to sue.
H.R. 1523 attempts to make it easier for the NRA and gun owners to sue by changing the legal rules for them. It declares that gun owners and membership organizations such as the NRA are “adversely affected,” which could support standing – even if a court would not find that they were, in fact, adversely affected. For anyone else in Pennsylvania, litigating any other type of case, a court would decide, not the legislature. Essentially, the bill moves the goal line up for the NRA and other gun groups, so that if the NRA moves the ball past the twenty it will count as a touchdown. For everyone else in the Commonwealth, however, the established rules of standing still apply – so for them, the football field remains 100 yards. This sets a dangerous precedent that the legislature can simply change the legal rules to allow favored entities to sue at will. Another legislative body, with different favored interests, could similarly alter the rules to force courts to hear claims by their favored parties. It also may enable gun owners and gun groups to clutter the courts with lawsuits that would not be allowed for any other Pennsylvanian, and would drain scarce government and court resources.
The bill also changes the rules of damages, allowing gun owners and gun groups who sue local governments to recover escalating amounts of legal fees, costs, and damages from governments who then rescind their ordinances. This radically changes damages rules in favor of gun owners and groups who sue local governments – changes that no other Pennsylvanians would enjoy. Indeed, Pittsburgh did not recover attorneys’ fees against the NRA when the NRA unsuccessfully sued the City, yet under this bill, the NRA and other gun owners and groups could recover up to triple attorneys’ fees, costs, and damages – essentially funneling taxpayer dollars to pay for special interest trial lawyers. Additionally, courts can impose penalties up to $5,000, on top of these costs.
Not only is this unfair, it is bad policy. It transfers scarce government revenues from much-needed services, like keeping police on the street, to lawyers and gun groups. The financial effect of this bill could be devastating to local governments. There is nothing stopping every gun owner in a city from suing the city – each with his or her own attorneys, all running up the legal meter — and cities could have to pay all of these costs, or double, or triple those costs, depending when an ordinance was rescinded. It is not inconceivable that cities could have to pay hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars, if not more, out of limited governmental coffers, simply for defending their authority to enact a simple ordinance that most of its residents favor, and that does not even restrict the ownership or possession of firearms.
The bill’s penalty system also skews the system of justice. The potential penalties are so onerous that even local governments who likely have winning legal arguments may well simply rescind their ordinances because legal decisions are rarely a certainty, and the costs of a defeat may be too great to risk pursuing valid legal arguments. As a result, gun owners and gun groups could often effectively “blackmail” local governments to rescind popular, common sense laws simply by threatening a lawsuit. Facing the specter of potentially vast payments and penalties if they lose, the wheels of justice will not have a chance to work their course.
H.B. 1523 is special interest legislation at its worst. It runs roughshod over the principles of an independent judiciary and equality under the law. It tramples on the authority of local governments, and rewards litigiousness at the expense of essential services that governments are trying to provide in difficult economic times. The legislature should reject this dangerous bill.