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Protesters urged to carry guns at rally against Pittsburgh regulations

Bob Bauder
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A gun rights advocate is planning to protest outside Pittsburgh City Hall in early January against the city’s recently proposed firearms regulations and is urging participants to openly carry guns during the event.

Justin Dillon, 32, of Erie has applied for a permit to hold the rally outside the City-County Building on Grant Street, Downtown, starting at noon on Jan. 7. Dillon, founder of the advocacy group Open Carry Pennsylvania, said he expects as many as 300 people and many of them – including himself – would be legally armed.

“We’re coming together to say that what they’re trying to propose is not right,” Dillon said Wednesday. “It’s against the law.

City Council on Tuesday introduced ordinances that would ban ban semiautomatic rifles and certain ammunition and firearms accessories within city limits. Council expects to hold a public hearing and meetings with constituents before voting on the bills in February.

In a Facebook post , Dillon urged participants to “open carry your rifles on your shoulders and pistols on your waist.”

“We just want bodies with arms to show our local government that we are not going to back down from this criminal act,” he wrote.

City officials said Pennsylvania law permits people to openly carry firearms in public, and they would likely grant the permit, but not permit anyone carrying a gun to enter the building.

“On the surface I don’t see any problem with it,” said Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich, adding the permit is subject to approval by the city’s Special Events Committee. “They want to make a statement and we respect their First Amendment right to do that.”

Dillon said protesters would restrict actions to outside the City-County Building.

“We’ve done this before,” he said. “We’re pretty rehearsed in how to do this and how to do it quickly, efficiently and safely. We’re definitely not coming there to interrupt anything. We’re going to be there for a few hours in one spot.”

Gun rights advocates have widely criticized Pittsburgh for proposing the ordinances in wake of a mass shooting in October at Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life Synagogue. They argue that Pennsylvania law prohibits municipalities from enacting gun regulations.

Eleven city residents were murdered while attending worship services on Oct. 27. Suspected gunman Robert Bowers, 46, of Baldwin has been charged with numerous federal crimes and is being held without bail in the Butler County Jail.

State Rep. Dan Frankel of Squirrel Hill is planning legislation that would give municipalities the authority to write their own rules for firearms.

“The state legislators are the only ones who can enact any laws against firearm owners,” Dillon said. “How is an owner supposed to know what’s allowed? Let’s just say there are 3,600 different municipalities, are you telling me I need to know 3,600 different laws, from one county to the next, from one town to the next?”

City Council members Corey O’Connor and Erika Strassburger, who represent Squirrel Hill and proposed the ordinances, said they respect the group’s right to protest.

“I assume and I hope they’re all responsible gun owners and I’m willing to meet with anyone face-to-face or have conversations over the phone about this issue,” Strassburger said.

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

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