Municipalities Violating Preemption

This is a great example of why states need preemption laws. Morrisville, PA has an ordinance that bans possession of firearms in their public parks unless a distinct permit has been issued.
The activities listed below shall not be permitted in any park or playground unless a permit has been secured for such activity from the Borough Council, or its agent, the Borough Manager. No permit shall be issued unless an application therefor shall have been made at least 24 hours before the time of the activity. In the case of seasonal activities, a permit may be issued for the entire season.

(a) Groups or parties in excess of 12 persons.
(b) Placements of placards, advertisements or public notices.
(c) Fires, other than in a fireplace or other equipment provided for cooking purposes, or for a bonfire or campfire as part of an authorized event.
(d) Firearms or the discharge of firearms or other weapons.
(e) Soliciting of alms or subscriptions.
(f) Selling or exposing for sale any articles.

The language that “firearms” “shall not be permitted” “unless a permit has been secured for such activity from the Borough Council, or its agent, the Borough Manager” that must be submitted “at least 24 hours before the time of the activity” seems to make it pretty clear that they issue their own permits to possess firearms in parks at least 24 hours in advance of your planned time to be in the park. I wanted to know more about this little gem of an ordinance.

In trying to find out more about that permit, I called the borough, found myself transferred to three different staff members in Borough Hall in my first call, put on hold for nearly 10 minutes, and still couldn’t tell you anything about the process to apply for this permit outlined in their code. I was then told to contact the Police Department for the permit information, including cost, but the Police Department said that any and all permitting in regards to parks happens through Borough Hall and sent me back to the third woman with whom I spoke. She eventually transfered me to a borough leader who said that the borough doesn’t actually issue permits, but they require that state licenses to carry in order to possess firearms in any way in public parks. I very specifically asked if that applied to open carry as well, and he said that all carry in parks required the state license to carry. (This is illegal for them to demand.)

What’s interesting is that this borough has already been warned off of violating Pennsylvania’s preemption law in a letter sent by firearms attorney Joshua Prince just four days ago. It would appear that instead of requiring you to notify them at least 24 hours in advance of any trips to the park and securing a permit at an unknown price with, what I was told, an application that apparently never existed, they are continuing to violate state law by demanding licenses to carry concealed for any possession at all – concealed or not.

This why we need preemption with some teeth. A good start is Sen. Rich Alloway‘s SB 876. It does at least make local governments pay for the cost of challenging their abuses of power. It would certainly improve the situation in Morrisville since, in all likelihood, the problem ordinance never would have been passed in the first place. Even if it was on the books, the borough itself would be on the financial hook for a court challenge to their illegal ordinance and almost certainly wouldn’t find it acceptable for their leaders to give out illegal advice without consequence.

Can you imagine what a mess gun owners would be in if ordinances like this one were allowed to stand? The permits could cost hundreds of dollars or require gun owners to fund security for the “event” of having a concealed firearm in the park, permits could have complex application forms that required absurd advance notice, or we could find out that, like Morrisville, applications never existed because they never intended to honor their own ordinance that requires a borough-issued permit to possess.

Unfortunately, Sen. Chuck McIlhinney, Morrisville’s State Senator, has not signed on as a co-sponsor of this preemption bill, even with this blatant violation of state law in his own district.