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HB 1243 will leave communities vulnerable to costly litigation

10/22/2014 07:43PM ● Published by Lev

Letter to the Editor:

In the final days of the legislative session, Pennsylvania state senators are considering a dangerous bill (HB 1243) that would open up boroughs and townships to costly litigation over local public safety policies. The bill would create unique rules for the gun lobby by giving “a membership organization” special standing to sue local communities at taxpayer expense if it doesn’t like local gun regulations.  A similar bill was passed in the Senate with an amendment attached to HB 80 which addressed which increased penalties for the theft of secondary metals like cooper wire and scrap.

I was disappointed when my state Representative John Lawrence voted to give favored status to the gun lobby instead of standing with the communities in his district.  Senator Pileggi voted in favor of HB 80.  Thank you Senator Diniman for voting against HB 80. If signed by Governor Corbett, the law becomes effective 60 days from the date of the governor’s signature.

In recent years, many states have enacted reforms in the wake of mass shootings to keep guns out of the hands of criminals without curtailing the rights of law-abiding citizens. Here in Pennsylvania, where our legislature has stubbornly refused to act, several cities, boroughs and townships have passed rules to crack down on illegal gun trafficking.

Oxford, where I serve as mayor, requires residents to report the loss or theft of a gun within 72 hours of discovering it missing. We passed this ordinance in 2009 to give police another tool to trace firearms recovered from criminals and to take away the excuse often tendered by traffickers that illegal guns traced to them were simply “lost” or “stolen”.

We believe our ordinance is a common-sense way to protect our borough from the illegal gun trade and ultimately to save lives from gun violence.

The gun lobby challenged Philadelphia and Pittsburgh over their lost and stolen reporting requirements, but their suits were thrown out. They appealed all the way to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, but each time they were judged to lack standing to sue. So the gun lobby went to their friends in the legislature and asked for special status that would allow them to sue boroughs like Oxford.

Under HB 1243, Oxford would have to pay the deep-pocketed gun lobby’s legal fees if we lose, even if we repealed our ordinance before the judge ruled. If we win, we would still have to pay our own legal fees. They file the suit, but the risk is on us.

Not only does the bill give the gun lobby favored status in court, it creates an uneven playing field that handicaps local communities. There is no other issue where a “membership organization” is given this kind of special treatment.

I believe that mayors, working with local law enforcement and councils are best equipped to keep our communities safe from gun violence. This bill is an unnecessary intrusion on local control by the state government at the expense of public safety.

I urge Governor Tom Corbett to veto HB 80 with the Alloway amendment.

 

Geoffrey L. Henry

Mayor of Oxford Borough

 

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