On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania State Senate voted to give gun rights groups more power in court—specifically the ability to sue towns and cities that implement stricter gun control laws than the state government. According to The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Senate voted 32-16 to pass the bill, which resulted from a 2012 legal battle between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and several Pennsylvania municipalities. At the time, the lawsuit was dismissed because the court found that the NRA lacked standing, but the new bill will now allow the organization and others like it to hold municipalities accountable for overly restrictive laws.
“To date, nearly fifty [Pennsylvania] municipalities have enacted illegal gun control ordinances including Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Lancaster, Reading and the state capital of Harrisburg,” The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action said in a recent press release. “Enough is enough.”
The bill will make it possible for organizations to sue municipalities and collect monetary damages and court fees if they win. Opponents of the bill criticize it for favoring special interests and limiting the ability of local governments to set laws.
“It is unprecedented in Pennsylvania jurisprudence […] and across the nation,” Senator Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia) told the Inquirer. “We’re making history tonight. We are conferring rights and privileges to citizens of the United States to an association.”
Supporters say that those rights and privileges are exactly what the bill hopes to protect. State Representative Mark Keller (R-Perry), who sponsored the legislation originally in the House, said that the bill will ensure that municipalities do not pass laws in defiance of state laws.
“Specifically, this legislation would deter local jurisdictions from imposing illegal ordinances by providing that any party who successfully challenges one of these illegal local firearm ordinances will be entitled to reimbursement from the offending jurisdiction for their reasonable attorneys fees and costs to bring the lawsuit, and any loss of income suffered because of the illegal ordinance,” Keller wrote in a memo last year.
The House bill, HB 1243, passed 143 to 54 last month.