PRESTON COVEY and                                       CIVIL DIVISION
SPORTSMEN'S LEAGUE,                                     No. GD 94-1499


   v.                                                   OPINION

CITY OF PITTSBURGH,                                     Filed on Behalf of

        Defendant.                                      THE HONORABLE JOSEPH M. JAMES

                                                        Counsel of Record;

                                                        C. Robert Keenan, III, Esquire
                                                        Howard J. Schulberq, Esquire

JAMES, J. The original lawsuit in this matter was filed in 1994 as a challenge to the validity of a City of Pittsburgh ordinance that was described as a ban on assault weapons. This court entered an order on February 27, 1995, that settled the dispute. As a part of that settlement, the parties agreed to the following stipulations: 1) Pennsylvania law preempts local action regarding firearms generally, and; 2) all parties agree to abide and adhere to Pennsylvania law. On August 30, 1994, the City of Pittsburgh applied to the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, for a grant of Federal. tax money. Among other goals, one portion of the grant was to be used to track and register all legally owned firearms within the City of Pittsburgh. PAGE 1 The plaintiffs, on December 29, 1995, filed a motion to enforce the settlement of February 27, 1995, and this matter was argued before this court on February 14, 1996. Although plaintiff filed an extensive memorandum of law, the City chose to file no responsive memorandum but filed a response to motion to enforce settlement. On February 28, 1996, this court notified the City that the decision in this matter would be delayed (at their request) for two weeks to allow the parties a reasonable period of time to resolve this dispute. When no resolution was forthcoming, despite the passage of eight weeks, this court entered an order on May 7, 1996, The City was ordered to terminate the grant application to the United States Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Assistance, known as Application No. 4-1992-PA- DD. This appeal followed that order. There has been much rhetoric surrounding this simple case. Both parties point to both the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution (commonly referred to as the right to bear arms) and the less publicized section of the Pennsylvania Constitution Article I, Section 21, which states The right of citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned. However, this court need not reach these State and Federal PAGE 2 Constitutional questions. This dispute is controlled by the less glamorous legal concept of preemption. Plaintiffs' contend that the regulation of firearms has been preempted by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Uniform Firearms Act reads: Nothing in this Chapter shall be construed to allow any government or law enforcement agency or any agent thereof to create, maintain or operate any registry of firearms ownership within this Commonwealth. 18 Pa. C.S.A. SS6111.4 Further, The Uniform Firearms Act states that "No municipality may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation of firearms". 18 Pa. C.S.A. 6120 (a) The question of whether 6120 preempts any City regulation or registration of firearms has already been answered. The City of Philadelphia enacted an ordinance that regulated the acquisition of firearms within the City. A class action was brought against the City, arguing that the regulation of firearms was a matter of statewide concern and that only state legislation in this area would be valid and enforceable. The Commonwealth Court stated "We believe that this statute (6120) clearly preempts local governments from regulating the lawful ownership, possession and transportation of firearms." Schneck v. City of Philadelphia, 34 PAGE 3 Pa. Cmmwlth. 96, 383 A.2d 227, 230 (1978) The City argues that the stipulation to settle the original lawsuit has no applicability to the grant sought by the City. However, the grant in question, which was attached to plaintiffs' motion to enforce settlement, clearly calls for the creation of a registry of all guns purchased or licensed within Allegheny County. Such a registry would be in conflict with 18 Pa. C.S.A. 6111.4, which specifically reserved to the Commonwealth the right to create, maintain or operate any registry of firearm ownership. The parties entered into a stipulation that acknowledged state preemption of local ordinances and local action regarding firearms. The stipulation also stated that all parties agreed to abide by and adhere to Pennsylvania law. The portion of the grant that calls for the creation of a gun registry is a violation of the stipulation. Plaintiffs' motion to enforce the stipulation is granted and the City of Pittsburgh is enjoined from seeking the grant in question. An appropriate order has been entered. BY THE COURT, Joseph M. James PAGE 4

Return to the
  • ACSL Main Page