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“Super-Preemption” in Pennsylvania Threatens Efforts Against Violence

October 28, 2014

by Mark Pertschuk

Like 45 other states in the US, Pennsylvania has already preempted local authority over firearms and ammunition. They did this on behalf of the gun lobby, and it means that local communities in Pennsylvania are very limited in what they can do to reduce gun deaths and injuries.

The National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups have been so successful in taking away local gun control that they’ve moved beyond mere preemption to “super-preemption”: the ability for special interest groups to sue local governments for passing gun laws.

On October 21, the State House quickly passed a bill that allows the NRA and other gun groups to sue cities that pass violence prevention laws, including ones requiring gun owners to report the loss or theft of a gun. This information is critical for local law enforcement agencies to effectively track guns used in crimes. Governor Tom Corbett says he plans to sign the new preemption law.

It’s bad enough that the gun lobby will be able to sue local governments for trying to do their job. Under the new law, they can also seek reimbursement for attorney’s fees, an expense that will ultimately be borne by taxpayers.

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California’s Gun Control Movement case study

State preemption not only takes away the authority of local communities to adopt violence prevention laws, it has long-term consequences for the prospects of building effective grassroots gun control movements. As illustrated by Grassroots Change’s case study on California’s grassroots gun control movement, powerful grassroots movements have formed in the handful of states without preemption. Today, California has the strongest gun laws in the nation, and lower rates of gun death than the national average.