Allow Cities to Enact Gun Control Laws


The current right to sue Pennsylvania towns that pass local ordinances regulating guns ultimately endangers community safety, writes the executive director of a local anti-gun violence group.

Every Shabbat, we recite the Prayer for Our Country: “We ask Your blessings for our country — for its government, for its leaders and advisers, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights from Your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst.” 
We should give this prayer extra attention in Pennsylvania, because our state government is falling far short. Last fall, the Pennsylvania legislature gave a gift to the National Rifle Association and other gun lobby groups with Act 192, which creates an unprecedented right for individuals and groups to sue Pennsylvania towns that pass local ordinances regulating guns — including prohibitions on carrying guns in parks or municipal buildings.
Now gun organizations may sue a city simply because they don’t like an ordinance passed to keep the community safe. Unlike every other kind of case, challenging a local gun ordinance no longer requires that the ordinance has even been enforced.
To add salt to the wound, a successful lawsuit can result in fees being paid by the taxpayers. However, if the city wins, it is not entitled to collect attorneys’ fees.
Armed with this new law, gun lobby groups have been threatening towns across the state with legal action if they don’t rescind their local ordinances. The NRA has already filed lawsuits against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster, while two other gun groups — including one based in Texas — have sued Harrisburg.
The blame falls squarely on our representatives and senators in Harrisburg. They chose the gun lobby over the families who live in their districts. They chose to appease a special interest group at the expense of dedicated mayors and town council members who were doing their sworn duty to protect their communities. And they chose to guard their NRA ratings at the expense of public safety.
Some will try to argue that Act 192 was passed to stop municipalities from regulating areas reserved for the state and that the only way to make the cities comply was to create special new rights with lopsided penalties. Don’t be misled — Act 192 was a gift to the gun lobby on the eve of the election.
If the legislature’s goal was to stop municipal regulation of firearms, it had many other ways to do so. Instead, the legislature created a special right for a favored group with the additional bonus of a fee-generating scheme for that group’s lawyers. 
Not only did our legislators make a clear choice against the public they were elected to represent, but in doing so they violated constitutional requirements governing the lawmaking process.
Unable to pass this legislation as a stand-alone bill, in large part because of the public outcry against it, the legislature, in the last days of the session, added its unique provisions to an unrelated bill penalizing the theft of scrap metals.
Simply put, they tried to ride the coattails of an uncontroversial bill to get these special standing provisions passed at the eleventh hour.
The problem is this violates the Pennsylvania Constitution, which requires that the parts of a piece of legislation all must relate to the same subject. Act 192 is a blatant violation of this constitutional requirement. 
As a result, several state senators and representatives, led by Sen. Daylin Leach, and the cities of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster are suing to have Act 192 declared unconstitutional. That case is pending in Commonwealth Court. 
The legislators who voted for Act 192 and allowed these political maneuvers to prevail failed to exercise their “just and rightful authority.” They shirked their obligations — which the Torah and our state and U.S Constitutions embody — “to administer all affairs of state fairly.” 
This Shabbat, during the Prayer for Our Country, consider whether the Pennsylvania government is one that acts fairly, follows the rules, and serves the causes of peace, security, happiness, justice and freedom. If you agree that recent events call that into question, stand up and be counted. When the rules are ignored and special favors are granted, those who govern must be held accountable. 
That is both our privilege and our obligation as citizens. Hillel teaches that we cannot shirk our responsibility to act when we see wrongdoing. We must stand up and demand what is right, not only for ourselves, but also for the greater community. 
In this case, the legislators acted for themselves and for a special interest group, heedless of their obligations to their communities. We should pray that they do better, but we also must act to make them do better.
Shira Goodman is the executive director of CeaseFirePA, Pennsylvania’s largest gun violence prevention organization. (


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here