Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Scranton City Council Attacks State Preemption

According to the NRA, Scranton City Council introduced a proposal that would require gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm within 48 hours or face fines and possible imprisonment.

The proposal, as with other proposals across the state that do the same thing, would turn victims of crimes into criminals and raises serious questions as to the legality of such a measure considering Pennsylvania has a pretty solid preemption clause in its Constitution.

As just mentioned, this type of legislation has been proposed in other municipalities in Pennsylvania. Many of those municipalities are now caught in litigation over this type of ordinance.

One has to wonder how this can be a priority for Scranton City Council. The city is swimming in red ink, has a budget deficit, stalled contract negotiations with some of its labor organizations, and has had a rather unflattering light cast on it for defaulted loans from area businesses. Instead of tackling these issues of city governance, Scranton’s council sees fit to weigh into constitutional law.

If Council is going to weigh into this matter and don the hats of constitutional scholars, it should also take a look at how the issue from all sides and hopefully gain a better understanding of what is really happening.

The DelcoTimes ran a column awhile back dealing with this exact issue. A retired federal customs agent and licensed federal firearms dealer inventoried his collection and found a pistol to be missing. He reported the firearms stolen and didn’t hear a peep after that until seven months later. The call was from the Philly PD which said his missing firearm had been found in a drug sweep. The perp was released on $100 bail and the case referred to the gun crimes unit. Months went by without any word from the authorities so again the former federal agent contacted the authorities. Turns out they decided not to prosecute.

What occurred next was more shocking…when the former Federal Agent asked that his firearm be returned he was told that he would have to contact the DA’s office to make arrangements which included appearing before a Judge to see if the former Federal Agent was fit to have his lawfully obtained property returned to him.

The Federal Agent has to appear before a Judge to get his stolen property returned to him (maybe) but the drug dealer with the stolen firearm doesn’t.

The moral of the story is this: firearms are inanimate objects. They do not commit crimes, criminals do. If prosecutors want to get guns out of the hands of criminals they should actually prosecute them when they catch them, not harass law-abiding citizens with endless bureaucratic nightmares for anyone that decides to exercise a constitutional right.

For further reading, an on-target letter to the editor from Joseph Fox, Chief of Detectives for the Philadelphia Police Department.

Scranton City Council should stop this legislation tonight. At a minimum, they could table the motion until the Constitutional issues are answered in the many cases across the state on this exact issue.

One last thought…remember the smoking ordinance that Scranton tried to pass that was found to preempt state law and was therefore, illegal? Do you remember how stupid Scranton looked and the litigation that was threatened by businesses that felt they were harmed by your last illegal ordinance? Don’t make the same mistake folks. Worry about city business and leave the state constitutional stuff to the state legislature where it belongs.

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