The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Pennsylvania could give the NRA the right to sue cities

File: The National Rifle Association(NRA) headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia. (PAUL J. RICHARDS/AFP/Getty Images)

Cities in Pennsylvania may have to think carefully before passing ordinances relating to guns and gun control in future years: Doing so could land them in legal trouble with the National Rifle Association.

The Pennsylvania state House last week passed a measure that would give anyone who may legally own a firearm, or a membership organization like the NRA, the legal standing to sue any municipality that enacts gun laws that are more stringent than the state’s.

The measure could make enhanced gun laws a financial risk for the cities themselves: It could require cities on the losing end of lawsuits to pay the legal bills of the plaintiff.

About 30 cities and towns in Pennsylvania have laws that govern gun ownership, including Philadelphia, Harrisburg and Lancaster, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported. Those laws include requirements that gun owners report stolen or lost weapons.

More than two dozen Pennsylvania cities passed those measures back in 2012, in the wake of a mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, Colo. The NRA opposed a similar measure in the legislature, where it died without getting a vote. The NRA sued cities over the stricter laws, but their suit was thrown out of court over lack of standing.

Now, the legislature wants to give the NRA standing. The measure passed the state House on a wide, bipartisan vote, though many Philadelphia-area Democrats voted against it. The state Senate has yet to act on the legislation.

The proposal is the latest in an ongoing fight between states and cities over which branch of government has jurisdiction over key laws. Forty-four state constitutions have some version of a provision that protects the right to keep and bear arms, and 46 states have adopted laws that prevent local jurisdictions from imposing stricter gun laws than those that exist at the statewide level, according to the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Aciton.

“Where no uniform state laws are in place, the result can be a complex patchwork of restrictions that change from one local jurisdiction to the next,” the NRA-ILA brief says. “[I]t is unreasonable to require citizens, whether residents of a given state or persons passing through or visiting a state, to memorize a myriad of laws.”

A memo explaining the proposed measure, written by state Rep. Mark Keller (R), the bill’s lead sponsor, uses starkly similar language.

States and cities are locked in fights over jurisdiction of oil exploration in states like Colorado, and even over the availability of broadband for rural communities in  Tennessee.