News and Commentary

PA Judge Strikes Down Gun Control Ordinances Implemented After Synagogue Massacre
Gun and bullets
Photo by Elizabeth Fernandez/GettyImages

On Tuesday, a Pennsylvania judge struck down three gun-control ordinances in Pittsburgh that were implemented after the Tree of Life synagogue shooting one year ago. Judge Joseph M. James of Allegheny County said state law “pre-empts any local regulation pertaining to the regulation of firearms.”

Almost exactly one year ago, a gunman murdered 11 worshipers in the attack on the synagogue using a Colt AR-15 rifle and three Glock .357 handguns.

The timeline regarding the ordinances went like this, as The New York Times explained: they were announced in December 2018, as the City Council, resoundingly Democratic, passed the legislation; in January, Allegheny County district attorney Stephen A. Zappala wrote a letter arguing the City Council lacked the authority to pass such laws; in April 2019 Mayor Willam Peduto signed the ordinances into law; and then the Firearms Policy Coalition, Firearm Owners Against Crime and Firearms Policy Foundation along with three individuals, filed suit against the city,

In May, the Court of Common Pleas stayed the ordinances.

The three ordinances “regulate the use of assault weapons in public places in Pittsburgh; prohibit the use of large-capacity magazines in public places; and allow courts to temporarily seize weapons from a person who is exhibiting ‘red flag’ signs of extreme risk to themselves or others,” as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette noted.

Peduto’s spokesman, Timothy McNulty, responded to the ruling: “The city and its outside legal counsel have always expected this would be a long legal fight, and will continue to fight for the right to take commonsense steps to prevent future gun violence.”

Attorney Joshua Prince, who represented the plaintiffs, enthused, “We are extremely pleased with Judge James’ decision today striking down the City of Pittsburgh’s unlawful firearm ordinances and signage, which only sought to eviscerate the inviolate right of the residents of the Commonwealth to keep and bear arms and ensnare law-abiding citizens through a patchwork of laws,” as the Star-Tribune reported.

In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs argued:

The City of Pittsburgh has prohibited one of the most common and important means by which its citizens exercise their fundamental right of self-defense. By banning the public possession and transportation of loaded standard-capacity fire magazines that can carry more than 10 rounds of ammunition, Pittsburgh has violated the rights of its citizens and exceeded its authority under Pennsylvania law.

Worse yet, Pittsburgh has committed this violation without any realistic prospect of diminishing the misuse of firearms or the incidence of horrific mass shootings. Pittsburgh’s ban on the carrying of loaded standard-capacity magazines in public will do nothing to ameliorate these public policy concerns. All it will do is leave law-abiding citizens more vulnerable to attack from better-armed and more ruthless assailants …

What is more, due to the porousness of municipal borders, there is no reason to think that a municipal-level ban would have any more effect in reducing violence by those who ignore the law or use alternative means to commit crimes. And there is even less reason to conclude that Pittsburgh’s ordinance will be effective, for it depends on criminals complying with a legal prohibition on loading magazines that may be lawfully possessed in public when unloaded.