Pennsylvania gun owners will now be allowed to challenge local gun control laws without first being charged under them.
In a 4-3 ruling on Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court decided that being a gun owner was sufficient to have standing in a lawsuit against the city of Harrisburg’s local gun control laws.
“That is the case here as Appellees must choose to comply with the ordinances and forfeit their firearms rights, to violate the ordinances and risk criminal prosecution, or to avoid being present in the City,” Justice Sally Mundy said in her majority opinion. “Therefore, Appellees are aggrieved by the ordinances and are the proper plaintiffs to pursue this declaratory judgment action.”
The decision is a victory for defenders of the state’s firearm preemption law because it will allow more potential plaintiffs to challenge local gun restrictions. Pennsylvania is one of 42 states with a robust preemption law, and it has been used to strike down multiple city-level gun control laws in the past. However, there has been a resurgence in recent years of cities and localities seeking to find new ways to pass local gun restrictions.
The case was brought by Firearm Owners Against Crime (FOAC), a Pennsylvania gun-rights group, against four Harrisburg ordinances that created criminal penalties for infractions ranging from failing to report a lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours to possessing a gun in a city park. The group filed a suit against the mayor and police chief. It sought to have each of the ordinances declared unconstitutional under the Second Amendment and statutorily preempted by state law.
The group cheered the ruling.
“No citizen should face prosecution for exercising a constitutional right,” Kim Stolfer, President of FOAC, said to AP News. “And that’s essentially what Harrisburg wanted us to go through to be qualified in this action to take on their illegal ordinances.”
Meanwhile, city officials decried the decision and called it a win for the gun lobby.
“I think the ruling was good news for lawyers and the gun lobby but terrible news for both the residents of Harrisburg and the residents of the commonwealth,” Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse said.
He told the AP that the city planned to continue fighting to keep the gun restrictions on the books.
“We absolutely plan to defend our ordinances with all of our might,” Papenfuse said.
The case will likely return to a lower court to be argued on the merits of the preemption challenge.