Morris NRA defense check

Former Lancaster mayor Art Morris hands Mayor Rick Gray, left, a $1,000 check so the city can defend a lawsuit filed against it by the NRA during a news conference Friday, Jan. 16, 2014. (Dan Nephin/Staff)

As of Thursday morning, 50 people had donated $7,745 so Lancaster can fight a lawsuit brought against it by the National Rifle Association.

The NRA is suing over Lancaster’s 2009 ordinance requiring residents who either lose a gun or have one stolen to notify police within 72 hours of learning of a missing gun.

The money raised so far, including $1,000 from former mayor Art Morris and a $1,000 match from Mayor Rick Gray, will go to the city’s coffers to offset solicitor fees.

The donations show residents are concerned about gun safety and want to help, Gray said Thursday.

The ordinance was designed to take away alibis for people who buy guns and sell them to people who can't legal own them — so-called straw purchases.

“As long as I’ve been mayor, I’ve never seen a groundswell like this. People are coming forward and saying it’s about time we take steps to keep guns out of the hands of criminals,” Gray said.

“I had two ladies stop me on the way to breakfast Saturday and thank me. I said, ‘For what?’ They said, ‘For getting sued.’ I said, ‘That’s a first,’” he said.

People also thanked him for the city’s willingness to defend the suit while Gray was at Gov. Tom Wolf’s inauguration on Tuesday, he said.

“It’s a great opportunity for the community to express how it really feels and not to be intimidated,” he said.

The city created the Common Sense Lancaster Legal Defense Fund and announced it a week ago because it would be on the hook for costs associated with the NRA’s suit — even if it wins.

The NRA claims the ordinance violates a state law that says local governments cannot “in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components ...”

Gray maintains Lancaster’s law doesn’t go against state law.

“We’re not regulating anything having to do with those three areas,” he said. “Rather, we’re telling you that you have to notify us when a firearm is in circulation.”

In the more than five years the law’s been on the books, not one person has been prosecuted.

That just goes to show the law is useless, according to an attorney for the NRA.

“It’s just to lord it over law-abiding people and threaten them with it — which is wrong and immoral,” said Jonathan Goldstein, the NRA’s attorney on the case.

Gray said the city hasn’t had a reason to charge anyone.

“We haven’t had the enforcement problem because the guns that we seize that are stolen, they’ve been reported as stolen,” he said, adding some guns seized haven’t been able to be traced back.

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, agreed that prosecutions aren’t the point of the law.

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh also have lost and stolen reporting laws. The NRA is also suing those cities.

“I don’t think lost or stolen reporting requirements were meant to be a gotcha for law-abiding gun owners,” she said.

Gray said reporting lost or stolen guns should be a requirement under state law.

Pennsylvania’s neighboring states of New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland and Ohio all have similar laws.

That neighboring states have “reflects an obvious need to have the law statewide and rather than have the General Assembly giving the NRA and others the ability to sue us when we try to do something, the General Assembly ought to be dealing with it,” Gray said.

Gray was referring to a new state law under which gun owners don’t have to show they’ve been hurt by a local ordinance to successfully challenge it.

That’s what enabled the NRA to sue the Lancaster, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Goldstein said the NRA was “delighted that the people in our neighboring states have found an equilibrium that works for them.”

But, he added, “It has been put forward in Pennsylvania and it has failed.”

Lancaster officials hope the NRA’s suit can be shot down on another legal front:

In November, Lancaster joined Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in a suit against state legislative leaders, contending the new law that enabled the NRA to sue wasn’t passed following state constitutional procedures.

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