Opponents give a thumbs down, as others applaud, after the Pittsburgh City Council voted 6-3 to pass gun-control legislation, Tuesday, April 2, 2019, in Pittsburgh. The bill, introduced in the wake of the synagogue massacre last October, places restrictions on military-style assault weapons like the AR-15 rifle that authorities say was used in the attack that killed 11 and wounded seven.(Andrew Rush/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

Suit filed over gun controls inspired by synagogue shooting

April 09, 2019 - 1:40 pm

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Gun rights groups sued Tuesday to block Pittsburgh from enforcing firearms legislation passed after a synagogue massacre, accusing city officials of blatantly defying the state's prohibition on municipal gun regulation.

Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto signed the bills into law in a ceremony at the City-County Building, declaring the community had come together "to say enough is enough."

"There was a lot of opposition. But more people within this city quietly showed their support," Peduto said. "We are going to take some action, we are going to do something positive and, yes, it is going to be everlasting. Change only happens when you challenge the status quo."

Minutes later, a coalition of gun rights groups sued to get the newly minted laws overturned, calling them "patently unenforceable, unconstitutional, illegal." Separately, the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League asked a judge to hold the city, Peduto and six council members who voted for the legislation in contempt of court, contending they violated a 1995 legal settlement in which city officials dropped an earlier effort to ban assault weapons and agreed to "abide by and adhere to Pennsylvania law."

"It is unfortunate that ... taxpayers will be burdened by the city's elected officials believing it is acceptable — and even gloating — that they are violating the Pennsylvania Constitution and Crimes Code," Joshua Prince, an attorney who filed both actions, wrote in a statement.

The new legislation restricts military-style assault weapons like the AR-15 rifle authorities say was used in the Oct. 27 rampage at Tree of Life Synagogue that killed 11 and wounded seven. It also bans most uses of armor-piercing ammunition and high-capacity magazines and allows the temporary seizure of guns from people who are determined to be a danger to themselves or others. The first two laws are due to take effect in 60 days, the self-harm law in 180 days.

The three bills — proposed not long after the deadliest attack on Jews in U.S. history — was weakened ahead of the vote in an effort to make it more likely to survive a court challenge.

State law has long prohibited municipalities from regulating the ownership or possession of guns or ammunition. While one of the Pittsburgh bills originally included an outright ban on assault weapons, the revised measure bars the "use" of assault weapons in public places.

A full ban on possession would take effect only if state lawmakers or the state Supreme Court give municipalities the right to regulate guns, which is seen as unlikely in a state where legislative majorities are fiercely protective of gun rights.

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Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania.

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