PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Five Democratic Pennsylvania state legislators and the mayors of two cities filed suit in a state appeals court on Monday asking it to strike down a state law allowing advocacy groups to sue municipalities over local gun laws.
The law, passed last month and due to take effect in January, would also allow lobbying groups, such as the National Rifle Association, standing to recoup their legal costs when suits prevail.
State Senator Daylin Leach said the measure, tucked into a bill that increased penalties for theft of copper and other metals, violates two parts of the Pennsylvania’s constitution, which requires bills enacted by the legislature to have a “single purpose” and bars altering bills out of recognition during the legislative process.
“This was specifically designed as a gift to the NRA,” Leach said at a press conference at Philadelphia City Hall. “It allows them to sue our cities for trying to protect their citizens.”
John Hohenwater, the NRA’s lobbyist in Harrisburg, did not return calls seeking comment. Nor did state Representative Daryl Metcalfe, the Republican who was the prime sponsor of the legislation.
The bill was amended by the Senate on Oct. 15 to include language authorizing any Pennsylvania citizen or association that included at least one state citizen to sue over gun laws and collect legal fees, even if they had no connection to the municipality in question, Leach said.
At the time of the bill’s passage, Metcalfe said the “common purpose” of the two unrelated parts of the bill was that they both increased penalties under the law.
Mayor Michael Nutter of Philadelphia, a Democrat, said municipalities should not be financially penalized for trying to protect human life.
“We will fight this at every possible step,” Nutter said.
Philadelphia city officials believe measures including one requiring the reporting of lost or stolen guns are vulnerable to potential NRA suits. A state appeals court rejected an NRA challenge to that law in 2009, ruling the organization had no standing to sue the city. Other possibly vulnerable measures relate to ownership of firearms by people targeted by restraining abuse orders and allowing police to confiscate guns in “imminent danger” situations.
About 30 Pennsylvania municipalities, including Philadelphia and Lancaster, whose mayor also joined the suit, are believed to have local gun ordinances that could become targets of NRA lawsuits, according to the lawsuit.
Editing by Scott Malone and Eric Walsh