Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act (UFA), section 6120(a), directs that “[n]o county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms . . . .” 18 Pa. C.S. § 6120(a).
The UFA rests on the legal concept of “preemption,” in which a higher level of government – the state –expressly restricts the power or law-making authority it grants to its political subdivisions. This law, like similar laws in 45 states, was enacted to eliminate the inconsistent and confusing regulatory hodge-podge that results when each locality adopts its own “customized” regulations on guns, and serves to ensure that the firearm laws remain uniform across a state. Previous court cases interpreting Pennsylvania’s law – including a lawsuit brought by the NRA against the City of Philadelphia – have invalidated local gun-control measures including prohibitions on the possession, transfer and sale of “assault weapons.”
Despite this and the clear language of the UFA, in 2011, Lower Merion Township in Pennsylvania adopted an ordinance, Code § 109-16. The ordinance, allegedly based on the need to enhance the safety of Township residents and the public’s use and enjoyment of local parks, prohibited persons from “carry[ing] or discharg[ing] firearms of any kind in a park without a special permit, unless exempted,” and punished violators with a penalty of up to $600.00 for each violation. The only exemption applied to “authorized members of the Police Department.”
A group, Firearm Owners Against Crime (FOAC), initially approached the Township to repeal the ordinance, based on state preemption. The Township declined, relying on its rights as a property owner and claiming the ordinance was consistent with the UFA preemption language because it only prohibited the unlawful possession of firearms in parks, allowing for possession with a “special permit.”