The Lead

Pa. Gov. Wolf vetoes GOP-authored local gun law preemption bill

By: - February 3, 2022 3:32 pm

As promised, Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf has vetoed a Republican-penned bill that would punish municipalities from enacting firearm ordinances stricter than Pennsylvania law.

The legislation, authored by state Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Fayette, that would make towns and cities responsible for all legal costs in successful court challenges to local restrictions, was approved by the GOP-controlled General Assembly last week.

In his veto message issued Thursday, Wolf called the bill “an attack on local governments who take action to find common sense solutions to gun violence and is yet another bill that shows indifference to the safety of Pennsylvanians.”

Existing state law prohibits municipalities from circumventing state firearms laws. But local governing boards, such as those in Philadelphia and Allegheny counties, have passed stricter gun ordinances. 

Dowling and Sen. Wayne Langerholc, R-Clearfield, whose companion bill was approved by the Senate in November, say this legislation will prevent counties from enacting such ordinances — or risk financial consequences.

“Once again, this governor has failed to live up to his oath to ‘support, obey and defend the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of this Commonwealth,'” Dowling said in a statement. “By vetoing this bill, the governor has put the Second Amendment rights of every citizen in jeopardy, effectively encouraging communities to continue enacting illegal gun control measures.”

Democrats, joined by a handful of gun safety advocates who opposed the legislation, argued that it would let deep-pocketed organizations, such as the National Rifle Association, sue local governments and leave taxpayers to front the cost. Wolf echoed that concern Thursday, adding that communities could not enforce local laws created to address gun violence if the bill became law.

House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, praised the governor’s decision, saying local control can help mitigate gun violence, which has seen an increase. Philadelphia reported a record-breaking number of homicides — more than 550 — last year. 

“Ignoring the problem is costing lives and hindering our law enforcement,” she said in a statement.

In December, Wolf vetoed legislation introduced by Sen. Cris Dush, R-Jefferson, that expanded concealed-carry rights, lowered the legal age from 21 to 18, and granted open carry in Philadelphia.

“I have offered many ideas that would help keep Pennsylvanians safe while respecting the rights of responsible gun owners, including legislation to require safe storage, authorize extreme risk protection orders, enhance reporting requirements for lost or stolen guns, and close gaps in the background check system,” Wolf said. “And yet, I have not received a bill from the General Assembly that seeks to address this issue in a meaningful way.”

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