Gun rights advocates say Westmoreland commissioners’ resolution not enough
Westmoreland County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Thursday that supports the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, a move that gun rights supporters said didn’t go far enough.
A group of about 100 people attended the commissioners’ meeting at the courthouse as the gun control debate that has dominated Washington came to Greensburg.
Charles Gallo of Ligonier lobbied commissioners to pass a far-reaching resolution that supported citizens’ rights to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the Constitution.
“I’d like to see the commissioners stand tall rather than just calling on the governor to support the Constitution. I wish it had gone a little further,” Gallo said.
He and other advocates asked commissioners to approve a resolution that would have backed existing gun laws and granted authority to the county sheriff to bar federal gun-control legislation from being locally implemented.
Commissioners never considered that proposal.
Jules Lobel, a law professor at the University of Pittsburgh, said the rebuffed proposal is “patently unconstitutional.”
“The local authorities cannot interfere with federal authority’s enforcement of the law. That’s not the proper way to challenge the law. The proper way is to go to court,” Lobel said.
Sheriff Jonathan Held, who attended the meeting but did not speak, said he supported the initial resolution.
“In Westmoreland County, the sheriff is the man who holds order in the courtroom and brings defendants into court and conducts sheriff’s sales. That is what the sheriff does. Period,” Commissioner Charles Anderson said. “He has no law-enforcement powers, no arrest powers. To get outside of that is not the sheriff’s duty in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”
Commissioner Ted Kopas described Held as “out of control.”
“He is not the Sheriff of Nottingham,” Kopas said.
Held said his support for the rights of gun owners comes at the behest of his constituents, who elected him to his first term in office in 2011.
“I’m elected by the people and I do what the people want. To say we don’t enforce the laws is totally wrong,” Held said. “Maybe some people are not used to my management style. I’m pro-active and that always comes with some criticism.”
Commissioners eventually approved a resolution that recommended citizens educate themselves about the Constitution and called on the governor to support that document.
Gallo advocated for stronger language to help fend off what he called attacks to the right to bear arms.
Gallo was charged with attempted homicide and aggravated assault in 2011 for a road rage incident in Ligonier Township. Police said he shot at another motorist. Charges were dropped when the motorist declined to testify.
Gallo said he acted in self-defense, which is permitted under case under the state’s Castle Doctrine law, because the other motorist was driving his vehicle straight at Gallo’s.
At Thursday’s meeting, six people spoke against gun-control laws and imposition of universal background checks.
Paul Upson of Unity said gun laws would not prevent mass shootings. “Doing something just to say we have done something is foolish,” he said.
Former state Rep. Tom Tangretti of Hempfield was the lone speaker to advocate for gun control laws.
In an emotional speech, Tangretti said restraints are needed to help curb violence such as last December’s elementary school massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
“The ability for somebody to have access to a weapon, an assault-style weapon … designed only to kill and maim is beyond my comprehension,” Tangretti said. “We have to come up with a system that prevents this kind of event from happening again.”
Commissioners said the resolution that was ultimately approved was appropriate.
“We are a nation of laws and live by the rule of law. The resolution they sent us went outside that, so we could not follow that,” Anderson said.
Kopas called the rejected resolution illegal and unenforceable. “What we passed today you’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone opposed to it,” Kopas said.
Commissioner Tyler Courtney said the gun issue created passionate debate. “We have a commitment to support and uphold the Constitution,” Courtney said.
Rich Cholodofsky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-830-6293 or [email protected].