ACSL Archives 2020

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City agrees to stay on three gun-control bills while lawsuits play out in court

Pittsburgh’s three gun-control ordinances will not be enforced until the court deems them legal, according to an order issued by an Allegheny County Common Pleas judge Monday.

All parties agreed to the stay during a Monday morning meeting held in Judge Joseph James’ chambers between city lawyers and legal counsel representing opponents of the laws.

“That’s consistent with the city’s goal all along, which is to put this in front of the court, let the courts decide whether these ordinances are permissible under Pennsylvania law,” said Eric Tirschwell, an attorney with gun-control advocacy organization Everytown Law who is representing the city pro bono. “The city is not looking to prejudice anyone while those decisions are made.”

Everytown Law is the legislative arm of the national Everytown for Gun Safety organization.

This has always been the strategy, said Mayor Bill Peduto’s spokesman Tim McNulty. “The Mayor has said basically the same thing numerous times,” Mr. McNulty said.

The three gun ordinances, signed into law by Mr. Peduto in April, aim to ban the use of certain assault-style weapons and accessories as well as allow the courts to temporarily seize weapons from those threatening to harm themselves or others.

State and local gun-rights groups, as well as four local residents backed by the National Rifle Association’s Institute for Legislative Action, have filed three separate lawsuits against the city — including two actions to halt the laws and another petitioning to hold the city in contempt for violating Pennsylvania preemption laws on local regulation of firearms.

“We want to make sure the public is aware of the fact that these ordinances are stayed and that there’s not going to be any enforcement until Judge James has an opportunity to decide the matter,” said attorney Joshua Prince, who is representing state and local gun-rights organizations Firearms Owners Against Crime and Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League, which are plaintiffs in two lawsuits against the city.

Firearms Owners Against Crime has 1,789 members statewide, according to its civil complaint.

“Of course depending on what that decision is, there is the possibility to ask the appellate courts to continue any stays, pending resolution by them,” Mr. Prince of Prince Law Offices based in eastern Pennsylvania, said after the meeting.

During the roughly 45-minute meeting, the judge also granted motions to admit lawyers to the case, including the Mr. Tirschwell, even as Mr. Prince questioned the ethics, and cost, of the city being represented by attorneys outside of the city’s law department.

Two other Everytown attorneys, Ryan Gerber and William Taylor, attended the meeting, along with John Doherty of the city’s Law Department, and Kelly Iverson, of the Pittsburgh-based Carlson Lynch LLP, who is also representing the city pro bono.

Judge James said it’s “not unusual” for the city to hire counsel specializing in a certain area of expertise.

“They do it on a regular basis. … I appreciate your concern for my tax bill,” he said in response.

Attorneys representing local residents in the NRA-backed case — Peter Patterson, of the Washington, D.C.-based Cooper & Kirk, PLLC, and Thomas Pellis, of the Greensburg-based Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck PLLC — were also present..

The judge also explored whether the parties agreed on standing for the cases.

“I believe this is an important case,” Judge James said. “I’m trying to move you people forward and you’re trying to move this into 2020. … At my age, you don’t even buy green bananas.”

Among the issues debated were whether the cases should proceed as three separate cases on parallel tracks and whether the city would be violating a 1996 consent decree striking down a prior attempt by the city to ban assault-style weapons.

The ordinances in question are “different,” Mr. Tirschwell said, calling them “an attempt by the city not to violate [state] pre-emption.”

One ordinance prohibits モuseヤ of “assault weapon[s],” defined as discharging, loading, brandishing, pointing, or “employing an Assault Weapon for any purpose prohibited by the laws of Pennsylvania or of the United States.”

“Unless one of these plaintiffs intends to do one of these things, these plaintiffs do not have standing,” Mr. Tirschwell said.

Mr. Prince disagreed, highlighting that his plaintiff Matthew Boardley, who is represented in the Firearms Owners Against Crime lawsuit, carries an AR-15 for his security duties at Heinz Field.

Judge James intervened and said, “OK, we’re pretty far down the road. It doesn’t seem you’re going to be able to agree on standing. … I can see where this is going. I guess this morning in the shower I was thinking we could expedite this.”

The parties met for a private scheduling meeting afterward, where it was decided that the parties have two days to file formal questions, which they must answer in two weeks.

Proceedings are expected to stretch into the summer or fall.

Source: Ashley Murray

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

amurray@post-gazette.com