- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 21, 2014

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) - Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial candidates disagreed Tuesday over legislation backed by the National Rifle Association that could unleash fresh court challenges over gun control laws in the state’s largest cities.

The bill, which Republican Gov. Tom Corbett’s office said he will sign, would essentially allow the NRA, or any “member organization,” to stand in for any member who is “adversely affected” by a local gun control ordinance that exceeds the reach of state firearms laws. The challenger also could seek monetary damages and legal fees.

A Corbett spokesman said the governor supports expanding the definition of legal standing in lawsuits against local governments over their gun laws, and he noted that courts have been clear that local ordinances cannot exceed state firearms laws.

Democrat Tom Wolf, Corbett’s challenger, opposes the idea of allowing “outside organizations to sue towns and cities that enact local ordinances.”

Once Corbett signs the bill, the provisions will take effect in 60 days. The Republican-controlled House and Senate each passed the bill in recent days by comfortable margins over the protests of most urban Democrats and some suburban Republicans.

Neither the NRA nor gun-control advocacy group CeaseFirePA could immediately cite a similar law in another state. As a leading example of a local gun law that could be illegal, CeaseFirePA assembled a list of 30 municipalities that require gun owners to report to law enforcement if a gun they own is lost or stolen.

The measures are designed to crack down on straw purchases of firearms for people who intend to use them in crimes, and many of Pennsylvania’s biggest cities have such laws on the books: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Allentown, Erie, Reading, Harrisburg and Lancaster.

While courts have struck down other laws - such as bans in Philadelphia on selling assault weapons or buying more than one handgun a month - the NRA complains that legal challenges to the “lost and stolen” reporting laws were unsuccessful because courts said the plaintiffs could not prove they were harmed by it.

NRA spokesman John Hohenwarter said the organization hopes the dozens of municipalities with potentially illegal gun laws on their books will rescind the ordinances.

Bur the NRA doesn’t have a plan to immediately sue every municipality with such a law, Hohenwarter said.

“Talk to me in 60 days and we’ll see how many are left,” Hohenwarter said.

Shira Goodman of CeasefirePA said some municipalities are considering rescinding their ordinances to avoid a lawsuit, while others are considering standing up to a legal challenge. Her organization is considering suing over the constitutionality of the law, both on whether it violated separation of powers and transparency rules meant to prevent the passage of special legislation.

On Oct. 15, the provision on suing over local gun laws was amended into a bill that had begun as legislation meant to prevent the theft of secondary metals, such as wires or cables. Within five days, it had passed both chambers.

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