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Pennsylvania Wins Small Victory Against The NRA

CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHREY
CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHREY

When the Senate voted against expanded background checks and preventing terrorists from purchasing guns on Monday night, the National Rifle Association (NRA) proved that it still wields significant power over the nation’s leaders, even after one of the deadliest mass shootings in U.S. history. Despite the overwhelming support for gun control among Americans, including firearm owners, 56 Republicans and two Democrats — many of whom are up for re-election in the coming months and have received millions of dollars from the NRA — chose to keep the lax restrictions that guns lobbyists have pushed for.

But as the country decried inaction at the Congressional level, one state quietly won its own battle against the powerful organization. On Monday, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court ruled that the NRA can’t file lawsuits against municipalities with gun control measures that enact local gun restrictions.

In 2014, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled legislature passed a law that allowed “membership organizations” like the NRA to sue cities over gun ordinances that impacted its members. Prior to the law’s passage, gun owners could only sue cities if they had proof that the ordinances in place negatively affected them. The NRA criticized local ordinances that “do not make people safer” and violate a decades old state law that prevents municipalities from regulating guns. The group also argued that it was too difficult for residents to challenge local gun ordinances because few could prove they were adversely impacted by the gun control measures.

Days after the law took effect in January 2015, the gun organization launched legal battles against Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and Lancaster — three cities that successfully passed gun control laws. The organization sued Philadelphia for seven ordinances, including a ban on firearms on city property and an ordinance that prevented people who posed an “imminent threat” from possessing a gun. It went after Lancaster for forcing people to report their missing firearms.

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At the time, Philadelphia’s mayor condemned this law as an intimidation tactic to prevent municipalities from passing gun reform.

The Gun Industry Has Systematically Demolished Regulators And Avoided The Fate Of CigarettesEditor’s note: This piece was originally published in December, after a mass shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic…thinkprogress.orgHowever, the gun provision passed in 2014 was attached to a bill about an entirely different topic: secondary metals. According to Pennsylvania’s constitution, bills have to be limited to one subject.

On Monday, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the 2014 law violated the constitution because the gun provision was unrelated to the focal point of the bill — a win for proponents of gun safety measures.

“This is a great victory for proper legislative procedure and for the ability of local governments to adopt common sense gun regulations without fear of financially crippling litigation,” Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said.

But underlying that victory is a federal law that still prevents people from suing gun manufacturers while powerful gun lobbyists have the ability to sue municipalities that successfully pass gun safety measures.

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There are six exceptions to the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA), which grants immunity to dealers and manufactures. But both groups have been virtually untouchable due to powerful gun organizations that have strong financial ties to lawmakers at the state and federal level. Behind votes against gun control bills are threats that officials will suffer if they defy the NRA.

Nowhere is the fight between manufacturers and gun control proponents more alive than in Connecticut, where families of Sandy Hook victims want firearms and ammo manufacturer Remington Arms to pay for marketing military-grade assault rifles to civilians. Those rifles allowed Adam Lanza to gun down 20 elementary school children and six educators in 2012. But this week, after it unsuccessfully tried to have the lawsuit thrown out under the PLCAA, Remington Arms asked the judge presiding over the case to strike the case, arguing the plaintiffs’ claims don’t fit the six exceptions to the law.