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Pittsburgh approves gun restrictions; lawsuits expected

April 2, 2019
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Val Finnell, left, gives 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. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh City Council gave final approval Tuesday to gun restrictions proposed after last year’s synagogue massacre, inviting a legal challenge by gun-rights activists who have long tangled with the city over firearms.

After taking an initial vote last week, the all-Democratic council voted 6-3 to send the legislation to the desk of Democratic Mayor Bill Peduto, who is expected to sign the bills into law.

A handful of pro-gun rights activists jeered and booed the vote, while two dozen supporters gave council a standing ovation.

“We’re happy to take a stand,” Councilman Corey O’Connor, who spearheaded the effort, said afterward. “It’s going to be a difficult battle, but we are willing to fight it. . People are starting to change their minds and be more open to some sort of gun control.”

The legislation places restrictions on military-style assault weapons like the AR-15 rifle that 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.

Pennsylvania state law forbids municipalities from regulating guns, and pro-gun advocates say they’ll sue to block the laws from taking effect — and file private criminal complaints against council and Peduto over allegations of abuse of office and official repression.

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Mary Konieczny, a nurse who addressed the council, called the legislation “a distraction and an overreach of authority” and accused council members Tuesday of trying “to fearmonger people that by taking guns away from legal gun owners, people will be safe.”

Dennis Jordan, a lifelong Pittsburgh resident and gun collector wearing a black T-shirt supporting the Second Amendment, also spoke out against the bills.

“My guns are not hurting anybody. I have no intent of hurting anybody,” he told the council. “I am not going to be allowed to own my guns because of this ordinance. I am ready to move out of this place. You just want to control people. You want to take away my right to protect people.”

The three-bill package — 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.

Jenna Paulat, wearing a Moms Demand Action T-shirt, said she supported “sensible gun laws.” She praised council members for their “bold actions.”

“They can’t sit around and wait for the state and federal legislators to take action,” she said.

Pittsburgh tried enforcing an assault-weapons ban in 1993, but the state Legislature quickly took action to invalidate the measure, and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that city officials had overstepped.