by Charles A. Rausch, Esquire
The Commonwealth Court has upheld the ban on municipalities enacting an ordinance to restrict the unlawful carrying of firearms on property owned by the municipality. Firearm Owners Against Crime, et al. v. Lower Merion Township, 1693 C.D. 2015 (Pa. Cmwlth Ct., filed December 16, 2016).
Lower Merion Township enacted an ordinance prohibiting persons from “carrying or discharging firearms of any kind in a park without a special permit, unless exempted.” The FOAC contacted the Township and alleged that the ordinance violates Section 6129(a) of the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act [UFA], which states that “no county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms.” The Township determined that since the ordinance only prohibited the unlawful possession of firearms in parks, it was consistent with the UFA. The FOAC filed for a preliminary injunction that was denied by the trial court. The Commonwealth Court reversed finding that the Pennsylvania Supreme Court already has decided that the UFA is a general ban on regulating firearms, and that there is no distinction between lawful and unlawful activity. The Commonwealth Court also held that the Township did not have the right to regulate firearms on the Township’s own property. The UFA explicitly prohibits a township from regulating firearms “in any manner,” and contains no express exemption authorizing a township to enact an ordinance regulating firearms on township property.
Senior Judge Pellegrini filed a dissent. Judge Pellegrini would have upheld the trial court’s denial of the injunction because the case law does allow a local government to control what takes place on its property. Judge Pellegrini noted that result of the majority’s opinion is something that the General Assembly never intended – “that a local government must permit guns in and on property that it owns, including its recreation centers, ballfields, daycare centers and libraries, not to mention county offices in the courthouse, in its police department, at its jail, in its council chambers, in its mayor’s office and so on.” The case law does allow a local government to forbid firearms on its property because it is not regulating firearms throughout the entire township but, instead, it is carrying out its inherent right as a property owner to control what conduct occurs on its property.