Pro bono offer for legal defense in gun lawsuit

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Back in 2009, several Pennsylvania cities were deciding whether to pass a “lost or stolen” gun ordinance. The NRA had threatened lawsuits if they did. But there was an offer to pay for the costs of those lawsuits, if they happened.

In Lancaster, the minutes from May 26th, 2009, show that a representative from the National Coalition of Mayors (an anti-gun violence group) made an offer that he said came from the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.

The document recording his City Council statement says, “Should the NRA instigate a lawsuit, the Brady Campaign has offered the full service of their legal team to provide pro bono legal coverage to any city that is threatened to be served with a lawsuit…”

And two months later, minutes from the Erie City Council showed a similar offer, as that council discussed the same issue. The minutes show a letter from the western PA coordinator from CeaseFire PA: “…in the event that a lawsuit occurs, the Brady Center has promised to represent pro bono (free of charge) any Pennsylvania municipality that passes lost or stolen handgun reporting. The Brady Center has given me the authority to convey this offer to Erie.”

The executive director of CeaseFire PA says she was not in the position when the offer was made, and her organization does not have its own legal team.

“If people want us to be an intermediary with Brady or with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence or with other firms throughout Pennsylvania, we will,” says Shira Goodman of CeaseFire PA.

Lancaster is now facing a lawsuit from the NRA based on its gun ordinance. Act 192 passed last year, giving national gun owners’ groups standing to sue municipalities.

The city is using its insurance policy to pay for its legal defense. But there is a $25,000 deductible. The mayor says he never expected pro bono help from any group, even the ones that pushed for the ordinance.

“Something has to be done about gun violence,” says Mayor Rick Gray. “This is a small step in that direction. But I don’t think anybody was counting on anybody else.”

But the city is counting on people to donate. They’re soliciting online donations for the legal defense.

Harrisburg, being sued by national group U.S. Law Shield on the same grounds, has a $250,000 deductible to cover and officials there are also soliciting donations.

The Brady Campaign says the man who made the offer to Lancaster was not speaking on behalf of the Brady Campaign. At the time, the Brady Campaign was helping Pittsburgh when the city was sued by the NRA, but a spokesman says that was on different legal grounds. “The Brady Campaign promised and fulfilled its promise to represent Pittsburgh,” says a spokesman at the Brady Campaign.

“We understand they’ve been put in a terrible position of standing behind the ordinances they passed because they thought they were in the best interests of the public, and trying to protect the budget,” says Goodman says of Lancaster, Harrisburg, Philly and Pittsburgh, all of which are standing by their gun ordinances and facing lawsuits.

City officials are hoping the Commonwealth Court will find Act 192 unconstitutional, and negate the lawsuits.

14 comments

  • OneMan'sOpinion

    Donate your guns to the NRA. Or leave them in your unlocked vehicles or in places where your children will find them. Really, it’s no problem. Reading stories about guns stolen from cars and kids finding guns and shooting their parents gives me something to do.

    • Rogue

      Are you daft? Just another loony liberal advocating irresponsible behavior; basically projecting his own psychopathology. Hey skippy, the majority of gun owners are responsible and safety conscious.

      • OneMan'sOpinion

        BINGO! The majority might be. It is the small few who need the laws that are being challenged right now. Quite a paradox, isn’t it? Thanks for noticing my sarcasm.

        • jeffO

          So now we need to pass laws for the lowest common denominator? Because little old ladies can’t do 70 on the interstate, we need to drop the speed limits back to 55MPH (for the children)…

  • Dick Haid

    The cities of Lancaster, Erie, Philly and Pittsburgh hold the position that they don’t have to obey the law. The citizens of this Commonwealth don’t have the same luxury. Obey the law or go to jail. The shame of this situation is when the cities lose the tax payer still pays the penalty.

    • Dave Weaver

      Well, actually…
      Philadelphia, PA is a “City of the First Class”, and is therefore somewhat entitled (by PA law) to have some additional restrictions on firearms… I am not saying that it is a good idea, for either the Commonwealth or the residents… It just is.
      The rest of these cities and towns can just go cry in a corner… right after they repeal their illegal laws and ordinances.

  • Ken

    If they do they could be exposing themselves to criminal charges. It’s illegal to collaborate to support state suppression of rights and the state law is quite clear that these laws violate preemption.

    One way to get rid of ceasefirepa at least.

  • Dave Weaver

    Speaking on the “lost or stolen” ordinance…
    “Something has to be done about gun violence,” says Mayor Rick Gray. “This is a small step in that direction. …”

    Well actually it is an infinitely small step – one that has proven to be of no value – other than to put otherwise legal firearm owners at the liability of a “law” that does absolutely nothing to prevent, solve, or deal with the crime and criminal problems faced by Lancaster or other communities duped by the Brady Campaign into this kind of ordinance…

    How about impeaching, recalling, and disbarring the judges and DA’s that allow plea deals to reduce (gun crime related) sentences – now that might get some attention…

    • OneMan'sOpinion

      How can you say that reporting lost or stolen firearms is an infinitely small step? You have got to be joking. Filing a report that a firearm is missing from a legal owner would not only assist in protecting the legal owner from what that firearm may be used for in the future, it would alert law enforcement about guns in the hands of hooligans. It is inherently stupid to repeal any requirement that lost or stolen firearms be reported to law enforcement and is only being used as a political statement.
      Maybe there could be a law that places liability upon the legal owner should their firearm be used in a crime and it was NOT reported lost or stolen?

      • KatrinaAnon

        Oneman, respect the opinion and certainly a popular one. However, it rarely, if ever, bears fruit. Canada had a gun registry for their country. The registry was suppose to do all kinds of things, including protecting law officers.

        It didn’t, and it cost Canada about a billion dollars (depending on the exchange rate). Canada finally got rid of it a few years ago.

        The assumption is that by reporting stolen firearms law enforcement will be looking for this firearm. Do you really believe they will? Still if you look at states like New Jersey where gun laws are stricter, Jersey crooks have little trouble getting firearms. Just consider France, stricter gun laws still, and the Charlie Hebdo shooters did just get pistols. For $2,000 they purchased 2 full automatic (not semi) AK47s and thousands of rounds of ammo.

        Is that what you are looking for? The only way to protect yourself is to put as many people between you and the villain(s) and hope the camera phone videos will help the police capture them later. That is what happened in Paris.

        If you want to reduce gun crime use project exile. When you start putting villains behind bars for 10 years for using a firearm in the crime thugs will think twice about using a gun to commit a crime. Even if they don’t the ones that do will find they are considerably older when they have the opportunity again.

        BTW Project Exile is a very rarely enforced law.

  • jeffO

    Act 192 may be undone by the courts, but the point remains the city passed ordinances that are patently illegal under other PA laws passed 30+ years ago. As long as one of the plaintiffs maintains standing, which in at least two suits they do, the cities can still kiss their illegal rules goodbye. If 192 stands, they can kiss their tax dollars goodbye as well. If voters were smarter they would hold their elected officials responsible for the loss; it’s not like they weren’t forewarned….

  • KatrinaAnon

    What is not apparent in this story is that there will be other costs besides the deductible. The other thing the city council is that this legal battle will amount to contributions to the NRA. Under the law people filing lawsuits over this issue will recover their legal bills. This becomes a real cash cow for lawyers willing to fight the city. Better still the more the city drags this out the more the plaintiffs attorneys will make.

    The best thing these cities can do so they will have more money for everything else is make the best deal they can and rescind the law.

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