Pennsylvania suffers 1,400 gun deaths a year and continually ranks near the top on national lists of black homicide victimization rates. But we have our collective head in the sand when it comes to fighting gun violence.
Our state legislature wants to prevent Pennsylvania cities from taking any action to fight gun violence, including dealing with the problem of illegal guns and access to guns by people who should not have them. Lawmakers have tried to reserve that area of regulation for the state alone.
The legislature has rejected all efforts to:
Ensure that our background check system is fully functional and applies to all gun sales;
Fight trafficking and straw purchases by requiring the reporting of lost and stolen guns;
Impose minimum standards of safety or proficiency training for gun buyers, or enact child-access prevention laws.
It seems that our legislators believe that gun violence is a problem that doesn't really involve guns.
Pennsylvania cities and towns, frustrated by the state's inaction, have adopted commonsense policies to keep their communities safer. These include restricting guns on municipal property, such as libraries and parks; mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns; and regulating the carrying of firearms during states of emergency.
There is a myth circulating in the halls of Harrisburg that, because of these community safety measures, law-abiding gun owners who drive through multiple municipalities would run afoul of a "confusing labyrinth of local laws." This just isn't the case. State law governs how one can transport a firearm by car, so any violation that could occur would depend upon whether or not you possess a concealed-carry license, not the ordinances of whichever county or city you are driving through.
Instead of working with towns and cities to determine if there is a problem and how to solve it, legislators are instead granting special power to the gun lobby. For yet another legislative session, lawmakers are working to punish cities that try to make their communities safer. They are creating a special right to sue for anyone who can legally own a gun and any organization that counts such a person as a member.
Under Senate Bill 5, which could come up for a vote this week, it is no longer necessary to satisfy the fundamental rule of legal standing if someone wants to challenge a city's gun ordinances. Unlike plaintiffs in every other type of lawsuit, a gun owner or group of gun owners would be able to sue any city in the commonwealth, regardless of whether the regulation in question impacted them at all. In fact, the person or group filing suit wouldn't even have to have set foot in the city they're suing.
There's more. Under the proposal, if a city loses such a lawsuit, it has to pay the other side's costs. But if the city wins, it's costs are not picked up by the other side. Of course, the real loser in both cases is the taxpayer who pays the city's bills.
If this all sounds crazy, it should. Senate Bill 5 would undermine our legal system, and is a backward way to solve a problem that likely doesn't even exist.
And don't think it will end here. If the gun lobby is successful, this bill would set a dangerous precedent. Think about how many Pennsylvanians would like to sue a city or the state when they don't like a law, regardless of whether the legislation has actually impacted them. Wouldn't every big organization like the right to sue without having a litigant who was actually injured? If this law passes and is somehow upheld, many people will get in line to file lawsuits, the result of a special gift from the legislature.
Lawmakers in Harrisburg should be working to protect cities, towns, and taxpayers of the commonwealth. The best way to do that is to vote no on S.B. 5.