Legal challenge brewing as PA township mulls gun discharge ordinance

A tiny borough in northwestern Pennsylvania could face a big legal challenge over a proposed ordinance banning gun discharges.

Strattanville Borough Council discussed the proposal last week after one of its members complained about hearing errant gunfire earlier this month. Less than 600 residents live in the half-square mile borough.

The ordinance — though unseen by the public—would be modeled after Rose Valley Borough’s policy of fining residents up to $300, plus court costs and/or 30 days in jail for gun discharges.

Strattanville Borough Solicitor Ralph L.S. Montana told Explore Clarion Thursday he knew getting such an ordinance approved wouldn’t be easy. “There aren’t too many places in Pennsylvania that have firearms ordinances,” he said.

That’s because regulating firearms over and above state law remains unconstitutional in Pennsylvania, according to Joshua Prince, an attorney with Prince Law Offices. His gun rights defense firm, the Firearms Industry Consulting Group, promised a legal battle should Strattanville enact the ordinance.

“A patchwork of laws across the Commonwealth serves no purpose but to ensnare those, who have no intention of violating the law but who unwarily find themselves in a jurisdiction, which imposes restrictions on their rights that the Commonwealth otherwise allows,” Prince said in a letter of opposition filed on behalf of Firearm Owners Against Crime, a statewide political action committee. “FOAC is prepared to file suit against the Borough, which will result in substantial additional burdens on the taxpayers. Clearly, it is in the best of interest of all of those involved that the ordinance not be enacted.”

Prince detailed more than a dozen instances over the last decade where municipalities across the state either backed away from or repealed laws regulating guns — from restricting firearms in local parks and public buildings to discharge ordinances like the one Montana wants approved in Strattanville.

“The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has been ‘crystal clear’ that only the General Assembly can regulate firearms, as the entire field is preempted,” Prince said in the letter.

State lawmakers have tried and failed over the last four years to codify the firearm preemption law recognized by the courts. The most recent attempts — Senate Bill 5 and House Bill 671 — would discourage the state’s 2,500-plus municipalities from enacting gun ordinances stricter than state law lest they face litigation from membership organizations, like the National Rifle Association, or other Pennsylvania residents.

Gov. Tom Wolf has vowed to veto the Senate version of the bill.