February 1, 2019
After 11 worshipers were brutally gunned down at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh last fall, that city’s mayor, Bill Peduto, took on President Donald Trump’s call for more armed guards at places of worship, or in schools, as a means of thwarting mass shooters.
Peduto told NBC’s “Meet the Press” at the time, that he believed gun restrictions would go further to help stop shootings. “I don’t think that the answer to this problem is solved by having our synagogues, mosques and churches filled with armed guards or schools filled with armed guards.”
At a news conference in December, Peduto took action. Joined by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, he unveiled some of the most significant gun legislation proposed by a Pennsylvania city in decades.
The proposed city ordinance includes three specific components. The first would make it unlawful to manufacture, sell or possess an assault weapon within the city limits. A second component bans bump stocks, armor-piercing bullets and other weapon accessories, and the third gives local courts expanded rights to seize the firearms of citizens deemed a threat by their immediate family members or law enforcement.
From the outset, the proposal has been mired in controversy. Within weeks of introducing the city ordinance, hundreds of armed protesters showed up at city hall in opposition.
Then the district attorney wrote a letter to city council saying the council and mayor have no authority to do what they have proposed. “I understand the desire of local governments to be proactive in reducing gun violence” wrote Stephen Zappala, Allegheny County district attorney. “I believe, however, that the legislative effort needs to come from the General Assembly of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and that the legislation currently before Council, if passed, will be found unconstitutional.”
Peduto’s response to Zappala, “Arrest me.”
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette apparently agrees with Zappala. The editorial board recently attacked Peduto’s proposal writing, “Instead of passing toothless laws and miring the city in litigation, city officials should harness the outrage over the Tree of Life tragedy and lobby the Legislature to address gun laws comprehensively.”
Things haven’t improved for Peduto. A handful of city residents incensed over the proposal have accused Peduto of “malfeasance in office,” and are seeking to have him impeached. Just this week, Peduto confirmed to WPXI-TV that he has received threats over proposed gun reform legislation.
The controversy is intensified by a Pennsylvania law that provides no city, county or municipality can “in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components.”
Last week, more than 100 people spoke at a day-long public hearing on the proposed gun restrictions. Pittsburgh Councilman Corey O’Connor said council would explore amending the ordinance so people understand the city is targeting only certain types of guns.
Regardless, the ordinance is expected to pass and Peduto said he will sign it.
Gun advocates have vowed to challenge the ban in court and promised to file private criminal complaints against council members and Peduto alleging a violation of state law.
Peduto has vowed to mount a stiff defense. He also said he would welcome criminal charges. He has taken a principled position that he believes is important to the health and safety of his constituents. Someone has to try to move the ball forward in this important debate and Peduto and the city council have taken on that role.
Peduto told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, “I’m confident that we have a decent case to make that will not only ultimately be able to uphold what we’re trying to do but also change the discussions in Harrisburg and Washington.”
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.
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