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Private criminal complaint filed against Peduto, city council members over gun bills

Bob Bauder
697547PTRPublicGunHearing04012519
Nate Smallwood | Tribune-Review
Val Finnell, of Kennedy Township, voices his opposition to proposed Pittsburgh gun legislation during a public hearing in the City-County Building on Jan. 24, 2019.

A Kennedy man Wednesday filed a private criminal complaint against Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, seven members of City Council and the city solicitor, alleging they violated state law by proposing legislation that would ban certain semi-automatic weapons and firearms accessories in the city.

Val Finnell, 51, said the complaint filed online with the office of District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. charges city officials with criminal intent to violate Pennsylvania’s preemption statute, which prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms.

He said it also charges them with official oppression and posting illegal signs outside of the City-County Building in Downtown. The signs warn visitors they are not permitted to bring guns into the building.

In addition to Peduto, the complaint names city Solicitor Yvonne S. Hilton and council members who have signed on as sponsors of the legislation, including Bruce Kraus, Corey O’Connor, Erika Strassburger, Anthony Coghill, R. Daniel Lavelle, Ricky Burgess and Deb Gross. The remaining two members — Theresa Kail-Smith and Darlene Harris — were not charged because they did not sign on as sponsors, Finnell said.

Council has yet to vote on the legislation. Finnell said he filed the charges because their actions indicate they intend to break the law.

“You don’t have to wait for a bank robber to rob a bank before you can stop them from robbing the bank,” he said. “Their actions show criminal intent.”

Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said the elected officials have a right to challenge the law.

“Legal threats like these are one reason why the country has failed to address the gun violence epidemic,” he said. “That has to change, and it has to be now.”

O’Connor of Swisshelm Park, who sponsored the legislation with Strassburger of Squirrel Hill, declined comment. Other council members were not immediately available for comment.

Zappala’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

According to the DA’s website, residents are permitted to file a private criminal complaint if police decline to file. An assistant district attorney must first approve the complaint before it can move into court. If approved, the charges would proceed in the same fashion as those filed by police.

Finnell said he did not consult with Pittsburgh police. He claimed didn’t need to do that before filing.

“I asked the DA this question, and he said they definitely could be filed,” he said.

Finnell, a member of Firearm Owners Against Crime, has been an outspoken critic of the city’s gun legislation. Last week, he was among dozens of people who testified in opposition to the legislation during a public hearing hosted by city council.

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