Justice

Lawmakers Sneak Big Gift To The NRA Into Bill Banning Copper Theft

CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta

National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre

“Secondary metal” theft, where someone sneaks onto a property that is under construction and steals copper wiring or other valuable metal, is a very real problem that increases the cost of housing and other real estate development. It also has virtually nothing to do with gun rights. And yet, Pennsylvania state Sen. Richard Alloway (R) successfully added a provision that is likely to amount to a financial windfall for pro-gun litigators onto a bill that was intended to protect against metal theft. The bill passed the state legislature and Gov. Tom Corbett (R) is expected to sign it.

Although the bulk of the bill is devoted to new and increased penalties for metal thieves, Alloway’s amendment makes three significant changes to the state’s gun laws. First, although Pennsylvania law currently prevents local governments from enacting laws that provide additional protections from guns that aren’t offered by state law, the new bill permits lawsuits by people and many groups “adversely affected by” a local gun ordinance. Significantly, the NRA is a “membership organization” that will be allowed to file suits under the bill.

The bill also requires courts to award “reasonable expenses” to anyone who successfully brings a lawsuit under this provision, and it requires such expenses to be paid by the locality that enacted the gun law even if “the regulation in question is rescinded, repealed or otherwise abrogated after suit has been filed . . . but before the final determination by the court.” Thus, the law reduces the costs of bringing a pro-gun lawsuit, it deputizes the NRA to police gun laws enacted by city and town councils in Pennsylvania, and it gives the NRA an incentive to file as many suits as it can as quickly as possible.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, a major casualty of the new bill is likely to be several local ordinances “involving mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns.” The Inquirer also quotes Montgomery County Solicitor Sean Kilkenny, who says he recommends that three localities within that county repeal their lost or stolen gun ordinance — “[i]f a town like Jenkintown gets sued, a couple hundred thousand dollars would blow a huge hole in their budget.”