To: House Judiciary Committee
From: Adam Garber, CeaseFire Pennsylvania Executive Director
RE: Vote No on House Bill 979 Punitive Preemption
May 19, 2021
On Tuesday the House Judiciary Committee will consider legislation (House Bill 979, Dowling) that would force taxpayers to pay legal costs when their local officials try to make the community safer through gun violence prevention policies. The legislation, which was previously struck down by the PA Supreme Court, would allow anyone to sue a municipality for enacting firearm laws and, if victorious, force taxpayers to foot the bill. CeaseFire Pennsylvania, the state’s leading gun violence prevention advocacy organization, urges you to vote no on House Bill 979 (Dowling), for the chilling impact it would have on local elected officials’ ability to fulfill their constitutional and moral obligation to safeguard their residents’ lives.
Pennsylvania has a gun violence problem. About 1,600 people are killed every year, the majority of them are suicides, often in our rural communities. Thousands more are non-fatally shot, and the ripple effects go further. In many municipalities, local officials are trying to respond to calls for action by local citizens to address a gun violence epidemic that has worsened in the last year.
The Commonwealth is strongest when local municipalities can respond to their constituents’ requests to develop potential solutions to problems impacting the safety of their community. Unfortunately, if HB 979 passes, local officials may be too fearful to explore potential solutions to the gun violence problem because of the financial risk it poses to the municipality. Many legislators started in local government — would you want your hands tied to act on an issue that was impacting your community?
Furthermore, the courts are currently in the process of determining whether local ordinances are preempted by state law, as is their job. We should allow the judicial branch to determine the contours of existing state law and then, if the legislature disagrees, they can act.
We urge you to vote no on punitive preemption that threatens to foist a financial burden on taxpayers as their officials respond to a gun violence crisis. If you have any questions about this or other gun violence prevention policies, I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (267) 515-1220.
CeaseFire Pennsylvania Executive Director