PA preemption bill clears first hurdle in long road to governor’s desk

A proposal to prevent Pennsylvania’s 2,500-plus municipalities from enacting firearm ordinances over and above state law cleared its first legislative hurdle Wednesday.

House Bill 671, sponsored by Perry County Republican Rep. Mark Keller, advanced out of the House Judiciary Committee on a vote of 26-6, earning bipartisan support from four Democrats on the panel.

“Hopefully the third time is the charm,” Keller said during Wednesday’s committee meeting where fellow Republicans defended the bill as a necessary step to unify all firearm regulations and prevent law-abiding citizens from inadvertently breaking laws “they didn’t know existed.”

“It is unreasonable to require residents of Pennsylvania and citizens passing through from other states to memorize every firearm ordinance as they pass through each local jurisdiction,” Keller said in a memo last month. “The end result is that citizens can be forced to incur significant expenses to hire attorneys to challenge these illegal and unconstitutional ordinances.”

The legislation is a near-identical reboot of last session’s House Bill 2258, which corrected a previous proposal, Act 192, invalidated by the Supreme Court last year.

Keller maintains the court’s decision reflected no judgement on the bill’s constitutionality — just the process through which it was passed three years earlier.

In October 2014, state Republicans amended Act 192 into a scrap metal theft bill and sent it to then-Gov. Tom Corbett’s desk. Described at the time as the “strongest firearms preemption statute in the country” by the National Rifle Association, state Democrats balked at the notion of gun rights groups suing municipalities over local firearm ordinances.

The NRA filed suit against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Lancaster less than two weeks after Act 192 took effect in January 2015.

In Commonwealth Court later that same year, the bill’s detractors argued the law violated the state’s single-subject rule — meaning it addressed too many unrelated issues in the same bill. Six out of the panel’s seven judges agreed, overturning the law. The state Supreme Court upheld that decision in June.

HB 671, like its predecessor, remedies the single-subject argument because its stands as its own piece of legislation, though objections to the proposal still abound.

“I think it’s an overreach,” said Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-Montgomery, during Wednesday’s committee meeting. “I think it’s legislation that really, let’s be clear, is meant for the NRA. There’s no real reason to do this otherwise.”

The Senate advanced a similar proposal last month. Gov. Tom Wolf indicated he would veto the Senate version if it got to his desk.

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