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Commonwealth Court finds NRA-backed law unconstitutional

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Commonwealth Court struck down a law on Thursday that gun advocates were using to sue local municipalities. Both Harrisburg and Lancaster are facing legal challenges because of Act 192.

It's a battle over whether the state sets the gun laws or whether cities can too: and the NRA's weapon of choice was Act 192. The law allowed large groups to sue local municipalities challenging their gun laws in court, and forcing them to pay the legal costs.

"This was nothing more than an attempt to extort municipalities to repeal all of their gun laws," says Senator Daylin Leach (D) at a news conference at the Captiol. "And it worked. Many municipalities did repeal reasonable, constitutional common sense ordinances to the detriment of public safety."

But the court says the provision of Act 192 that gave the groups the standing to sue had nothing to do with the rest of the bill. So, in a unanimous decision, the court declared the law unconstitutional.

"This is a major victory for public safety and the rule of law in Pennsylvania," says Leach.

Gun rights activists say the state's 1974 Preemption Law mandates that only the state can legislate gun ownership. And they say cities like Harrisburg are breaking that law by enforcing any gun regulations that are more strict.

Harrisburg is named in two lawsuits, and already facing costs of more than $64,000. The lawsuits are not ended with the court's decision, and those costs will continue.

"If they had known what this was going to do, and how it was going to effect municipalities, and this had been given a clear public airing at the time, I don't think the law would've been passed," says Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse (D).

A judge struck down three of Harrisburg's five gun ordinances in February. Other municipalities repealed their gun laws in order to avoid the lawsuits.

In a statement, Kim Stolfer, president of Firearm Owners Against Crime reacted to the court's decision, saying, "This is a refutation of logic, and accountability for government as well, because the ‘only’ barrier to illegal local gun laws was the active involvement of individuals and gun groups in going after these law breaking communities."

House Speaker Mike Turzai (R) says he is considering whether to fight for Act 192 and appeal to the Supreme Court.