Proposed gun legislation triggers protests


Janine Faust | Managing Editor

Many of the protestors gathered outside the City-Council Building carried firearms during Monday afternoon’s demonstration.

By Emily Wolfe, Assistant News Editor

Several hundred gun rights supporters gathered at the Pittsburgh City-County Building on Grant Street Monday afternoon to protest proposed legislation that would restrict gun ownership in Pittsburgh.

Many of the attendees carried their own guns to the protest, and some held signs that read “We will not comply,” a phrase later taken up by the crowd as a chant. Co-organizer Shawn Thomas estimated that the protest, which was planned through Facebook in the days following the announcement of the proposed legislation, numbered between 500 to 700 in total.

Mayor Bill Peduto announced the proposals at a press conference on Dec. 14, 2018, where he was joined by Gov. Tom Wolf. The proposed legislation consists of three bills that would ban the manufacture and sale of assault weapons and certain ammunition, and would prevent people deemed at risk of causing harm to themselves or others from owning a gun.

The gun rights activists who spoke at the event pointed out that the proposed restrictions would violate a state pre-emption law that has prevented Pennsylvania cities from regulating the sale of firearms since 1972.

“No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth,” the law reads.

The event began with a moment of silence in recognition of the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting and protest organizer Justin Dillon read a statement from the organization Jews For The Preservation of Firearms Ownership.

“You can’t arm slaves and expect them to remain slaves,” the statement read. “Similarly, you can’t disarm free citizens and expect them to remain free citizens.”

Dillon wants to pass his passion for guns on to his 9-year-old son one day, and he hopes his son won’t have to fight for it anymore, he said.

“If we keep sitting idly by, our rights will keep being infringed on,” Dillon said.

Speaking to the crowd at the protest, State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-Ellwood City, called the proposals a “political stunt.”

“This mayor, his council and the district attorney are breaking the law,” he said. “These proposals will not work.”

There were few counterprotesters at the event, though one woman who carried a sign that read “Keep your guns away from our kids” made her way to the front of the crowd while Bernstine spoke.

“We will keep our guns away from your kids until they need protecting,” he said to a roar from the crowd. “Then these people will be right here, ready to protect them!”

Kaitlin Bennett, the protest’s most recognizable speaker, rose to Internet prominence last year as the “Kent State gun girl” when she posed with an AR-10 rifle in her college graduation photos. Addressing the crowd, Bennett mocked Peduto as “Mayor Potato Head” and criticized his proposed laws as “bullshit.”

“They’re supporting an agenda that aids criminals that don’t follow laws. If you think another gun law is going to change anything, you have not been paying attention,” she said. “Rapists, murderers and thieves are all on the mayor’s side today. They’re thanking him.”

Kelly Ann Pidgeon of the gun rights group Armed and Feminine told the protesters she would not comply with the legislation if it was passed.

“I’m angry about this proposed legislation because it will force me to choose between being a felon and putting my life at risk,” Pidgeon said. “Who does that?”

The crowd shouted back, “A tyrant!”

Past attempts by Pittsburgh and other cities to pass gun restrictions in spite of the pre-emption law have prompted lawsuits from the National Rifle Association. Most recently, the NRA sued Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Lancaster in 2015 over laws that regulated gun ownership.

Later that year, the state Commonwealth Court struck down a law that had allowed “membership organizations” like the NRA to challenge the restrictions in court. Without that law, individual opponents of the proposed regulations must demonstrate harm done by local ordinances in order to challenge.

Chad Ligouri of State College travelled to Pittsburgh to support the protest and brought his permitted conceal-carry weapon with him.

“As a gun owner, I shouldn’t have to have a law degree to understand where I can carry and what the laws are in each municipality,” Ligouri said.

Though some gun owners plan not to comply with the “illegal” legislation if it is passed, others say they will — they just won’t be happy about it. Bloomfield resident David Indino, 54, said he would go “state to state” to protest for Second Amendment rights if he had to.

“Us being law-abiding citizens, we would have to comply,” Indino said of the proposed legislation. “But we’re not going to take it lying down.”

Janine Faust contributed reporting to this story.

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