Editorial: City leaders must be transparent in gun control battle


Via Lee Paxton | Wikimedia

Three bills introduced in December by Erika Strassburger and Corey O’Connor meant to ban assault weapons and accessories contained parts of ineffective and outdated laws.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

Pittsburgh City Council members Corey O’Connor and Erika Strassburger introduced a set of gun control ordinances last December, knowing full well they would violate a Pennsylvania state law that prohibits local municipalities from making their own gun laws. Over a month has passed and they are still silent about how the City plans to fight the legal battle ahead.

“At this point we are going to pass our bills, move forward,” O’Connor said to CBS Pittsburgh. “Whatever happens after that we will find out.”

Mayor Bill Peduto has similarly declined to discuss the City’s legal strategy, only hinting to CBS Pittsburgh that it would “change the discussion in Harrisburg and Washington.”

The Pennsylvania state preemption law prohibits municipalities from passing their own gun laws and has been upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court since the 1990s. If City leaders hope to try their hand at overturning decades of court precedence, City residents deserve to know more about their plan than waiting to “find out.”

Pittsburgh’s effort to pass its own gun control ordinances would not be the first time local municipalities in Pennsylvania have tried to challenge the state’s preemption law. A Philadelphia assault weapons ban was struck down in 2008 and an Erie gun ordinance was also defeated in the courts in 2014.

Legal experts have expressed doubts Pittsburgh will overcome this legal precedence. In a letter to O’Connor dated Jan. 9, Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala expressed his concern the City was overstepping its legal authority.

“As the District Attorney of Allegheny County for the past 20 years, I understand the efforts to curtail gun violence and limit the accessibility to assault weapons, ammunition, and gun accessories capable of causing widespread injury, destruction, and death,” he wrote. “While I certainly see the desire for such type of legislation at the state and federal levels, I believe that City Council does not have the authority to pass such legislation.”

Peduto fired back at Zappala for suggesting the City lacked the authority to pass the ordinances and accused Zappala of threatening City leaders with criminal charges.

“Arrest me. You know what, I welcome him trying to put up a lawsuit that would arrest me if I sign this legislation,” Peduto said to CBS Pittsburgh. “It would be unprecedented simply because he doesn’t support gun reform or he is somehow so convinced the gun lobby is so important to his election that he would threaten to arrest legislators would support gun reform is astounding.”

Zappala’s letter made no indication he would arrest City leaders.

Pittsburgh faces a tough legal battle ahead if the bills are passed and City residents deserve to know how their leaders plan to overturn decades of legal precedence. Peduto’s deflections and O’Connor’s vagueness are not enough.

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