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Pittsburgh Mayor Peduto prepared to take city gun bills to Supreme Court

Bob Bauder
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Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto on Jan. 22, 2019, criticized a letter written by Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr., questioning the city’s authority to pass gun legislation.
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Bob Bauder | Tribune-Review
An armed protester stands with his young daughter outside the City-County Building in Downtown Pittsburgh on Jan. 7, 2019, during a rally over the city’s proposed gun ban.

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said he’s prepared to battle all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary over the city’s proposed gun ban.

The mayor, in an impromptu interview with reporters Wednesday, said the Pennsylvania Supreme Court is another possibility “depending on what’s being challenged.”

Gun activists have promised to sue the city and file private criminal charges against the mayor and city council members if they pass bills prohibiting certain semi-automatic rifles, ammunition and firearms accessories. The ordinances include a “red flag” bill that would permit police and household members to petition a court for removal of a person’s firearms if the person is deemed a threat.

“The ability to preempt cities from being able to protect their people, I think, would end up in the state Supreme Court,” Peduto said. “The ability for us to put reasonable restrictions, well regulated restrictions, on guns, I think we could possibly end up in federal Supreme Court.”

By preemption, he was referring to a Pennsylvania law that prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms. Activists have argued that the gun ban would violate the preemption statute and subject city officials to criminal prosecution.

Peduto said defending the ordinances in court would not come at a major cost to the city. Several law firms and nonprofit organizations specializing in gun reform have volunteered to help, he said, declining to name the organizations.

“We’ve had at least two, possibly three, different firms that have offered pro bono assistance,” he said. “There are nonprofit organizations that work on common sense gun reform nationally that have offered, and we have a law team in this building that does this type of work as well. I’m not going to turn down free legal assistance and having people who work specifically in this field assist us with this as well as nonprofit organizations that do it on a federal and national basis.”

Several states have successfully passed stricter gun laws following the the Valentine’s Day 2018 shootings at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High Schools in Parkland, Fla., according to the Associated Press. Florida’s Republican-controlled legislature, for example, raised the gun purchasing age to 21, imposed a three-day waiting period for firearm purchases and approved a red flag provision.

Courts in recent years have ruled against Pittsburgh ordinances, including bills that would have required gun owners to report lost and stolen handguns, and businesses to train security guards and offer employees paid sick leave.

Peduto was undeterred. He said challenging preemption laws and federal limitations is a trend happening in cities across the country.

“Every movement that has happened in this country, whether it was workers’ rights, or civil rights or a woman’s right to vote started at a local level in challenging what local and state laws are just,” he said. “Those challenges ended up being upheld in court, and it moved up the process of changing state law, of changing federal law, of being able to change this country to where we are today.”

Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.