Pittsburgh Tries Tricky Legal Strategy to Control ‘Assault Rifle’ Use within City Limits

Councilman Corey O’Connor introduced and supported the gun control measures. (Photo: Office of Councilman Corey O’Connor: Pittsburgh District 5 Facebook)

You’ve gotta give them points for creativity.

The all-Democratic Pittsburgh City Council voted 6-3 this week to ban the “use” of some semi-automatic rifles along with a total ban on magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition and all “armor-piercing” ammunition. The Council also voted to enact an ordinance allowing the court to seize firearms under an “extreme risk protection order” requested by a family or household member.

The council had previously considered a total ban on all “assault rifles,” but as GunsAmerica reported at the time, the Pennsylvania state legislature prohibits local municipalities from passing ordinances that contradict state law.

Pennsylvania law states in 18 Pa.C.S.A. § 6120:

No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.

Council members believe they can get around the prohibition by banning the “use” of these firearms rather than the possession. The ordinance defines “use” as “discharging, loading, brandishing, displaying, pointing or employing” at any “public place” (including gun ranges).

“With state-level preemption in mind, we’re confident that we’ve charted a unique course with our shifted focus to ‘use’ that hasn’t yet been fully tested in Pennsylvania courts,” Matt Singer, legislative director for Pittsburgh City Councilman Corey O’Connor, told The Hill.

“An example of this change to ‘use’ can be seen in Bill 2018-1218, which notes that ‘use’ of an Assault Weapon does not include possession, ownership, transportation or transfer,” he added.

Pro-gun advocates have vowed to sue the city to keep the laws from taking effect, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The NRA is preparing a suit to challenge the magazine ban, and other Pittsburgh gun owners are planning legal action of their own.

“I’m certainly disappointed in the vote today, and as soon as the mayor signs [the bills], we’ll be proceeding with the private criminal complaints [against] council members who voted for the measure and the mayor if and when he signs,” said Val Finnell, a physician and gun-rights advocate from McKees Rocks who unsuccessfully attempted to file the criminal complaints in January.

“It’s illegal. It’s unconstitutional, and you heard Councilwoman Harris say that today. She’s absolutely right, and there’s got to be consequences,” he added.

Despite the relatively toothless nature of the rifle restrictions, and the fact that Pittsburgh already has a law that prohibits firing a gun within city limits, supporters of the legislation stood up and cheered when the ordinance passed. Opponents booed, telling the council members they’ll “see you in court.”

Pennsylvania gun rights advocates have reason to be hopeful. In a 1996 challenge to Pennsylvania’s preemption law, Ortiz v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania upheld the state’s prohibition on local gun control laws. As they explained,

Because the ownership of firearms is constitutionally protected, its regulation is a matter of statewide concern. The constitution does not provide that the right to bear arms shall not be questioned in any part of the commonwealth except Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, where it may be abridged at will, but that it shall not be questioned in any part of the commonwealth. Thus, regulation of firearms is a matter of concern in all of Pennsylvania, not merely in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and the General Assembly, not city councils, is the proper forum for the imposition of such regulation.

Check the GunsAmerica Digest for more details as this story develops.

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About the author: Jordan Michaels has been reviewing firearm-related products for over two years and enjoying them for much longer. With family in Canada, he’s seen first hand how quickly the right to self-defense can be stripped from law-abiding citizens. He escaped that statist paradise at a young age, married a sixth-generation Texan, and currently lives in Waco.

{ 13 comments… add one }
  • headhunter April 5, 2019, 7:07 pm

    I’ve been checking every gun statistic site I can find, and I find no instances where an ‘assault rifle’ was used in Pittsburgh for a crime or otherwise. I also wonder if they have ‘defined’ ‘armor piercing’ ammo, and if so, what that working definition might be. No doubt all the big game hunters in PA might be interested in that definition as well. After all, after getting ‘assault rifles’ off the street, those hunting rifles are looking a lot like ‘sniper rifles’!

  • Wayne Clemon April 5, 2019, 12:13 pm

    When governments are seemingly unable to enforce simple firearms regulations how are they going to figure this out? And isn’t it pretty useless to confiscate someone’s ar15 AFTER he uses it.

  • Michael April 5, 2019, 9:32 am

    Councilman O’Conner looks to me to be little more than a child, who probably has no history of Military Service, and who’s only education is in the Socialist Doctrine of the Public School System and Liberal College Ideology and Thought. That, alone, should preclude him from holding Public Office. (and ALL Others who might have similar qualifications.)

    • Thomas April 6, 2019, 7:16 am

      Anti-gunners have worn uniforms too. Look at the “full semi-auto” Army officer that CNN dredged up. IL has two former military officers as state reps that are also anti-gunners. It’s sad that people who swore to uphold the Constitution are the main ones using their military background to attack the Second Amendment.

  • D. April 5, 2019, 9:13 am

    This is what you get when IDIOTS are elected! The Second Amendment says not only to keep arms, but BEAR arms. Which means to USE them It also says this Right SHALL NOT BE INFRINGED upon, PERIOD. which means by anyone!

  • John Keifer April 5, 2019, 7:39 am

    Gee not a surprise, all Democratic idiots on the city council!

    • MadDog Mike April 5, 2019, 9:20 am

      Yes, just like most urban cesspool large cities. Run by Democrats for Democrats. And now they’re pushing to get rid of the Electoral College so that these very same people can run the entire country from their hell holes!!

  • Alan April 5, 2019, 7:32 am

    Actually there is “No proper forum for legislation” Unless you can read some new meaning into “Shall not be infringed”.

  • Darcie c April 5, 2019, 5:54 am

    Here’s another example of people in power pushing their own agenda. Who keeps voting these ignorant people in office.

    • Thomas Prather April 5, 2019, 8:26 am

      Who says they actually get voted in? The Demonrats are known for false voting techniques such as dead people voting, falsifying forms, ballot harvesting, etc.

    • Hush April 5, 2019, 10:04 am

      Others just like them vote them into office and re-elect them. Does not speak well of the general populace!

  • Robjohn April 5, 2019, 5:24 am

    I wonder if this use ban also is for Police.

    • joefoam April 5, 2019, 8:34 am

      Exactly, will the LEOs turn in their Glock magazines and patrol rifles, one could bet that there will be an exemption as the law enforcement guys are ‘special’. Voters of Pittsburgh take note, vote these guys out or impeach them now.

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