Did The Papal Visit Gun Ban Violate PA’s Preemption Law?

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In case you’ve been too distracted by all the headlines about Syria, Hillary Clinton’s e-mail problems and the return of Bloom County to notice, Pope Francis spent the last few days here in these United States. TTAG reader James R. lives near Philadelphia, where His Holiness celebrated a hugely-attended mass on Sunday. The security measures taken in preparation for the Pontiff’s visit piqued James’ curiosity . . .

I live in PA, and while I don’t plan on being anywhere near the city when the pope visits this weekend, I noticed that large sections of the city are being sectioned off with security checkpoints and no guns are allowed in….

How does this work legally? (or doesn’t it?) PA now has strong preemption laws. Can they legally just ban guns in a huge section of the city where I could otherwise legally carry on any other day?

James is partially right: 18 Pa. C.S. sec. 6120 of the Pennsylvania code does indeed bar Pennsylvania counties, municipalities, or townships from imposing their own regulations concerning the “lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth”.

The one big exception: unlicensed open carry of a firearm is barred in cities ‘of the first class’ (i.e., Philadelphia,). But even that exception comes from state law, not a municipal ordinance. (The various attempts by cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or Harrisburg to pass laws regulating firearms or ammunition are thus likely in violation of sec. 6120 of the Pennsylvania Code.)

The question veers a little off the track, however, where it assumes that the directive barring the lawful carriage of firearms in areas visited by Pope Francis came from a local government in Pennsylvania.

The Department of Homeland Security declared the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia, and concomitant mass to be a “National Special Security Event” (read more about NSSEs here). Accordingly, the U.S. Secret Service was put in charge of security arrangements, as per 18 U.S.C. sec. 3056. (You can read more about NSSEs here.)

Thus, the USSS created the restricted zones around the Papal visit, and imposed the ban within the zones on firearms and ammunition, and a lot of other stuff:

• Aerosols

• Ammunition

• Animals other than service/guide animals

• Backpacks and bags exceeding the size restrictions (18″x13″x7″)

• Balloons

• Bicycles

• Hard Coolers (Soft-sided thermal coolers are allowed)

• Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems

• Explosives

• Firearms

• Glass, thermal or metal containers

• Laser pointers

• Mace/Pepper spray

• Packages

• Selfie Sticks

• Signs exceeding the size restrictions (5’x3’14’) made of any material except cardboard, posterboard or cloth

• Structures

• Supports for signs and placards

• Toy guns

• Weapons of any kind

• Any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard

I guess most of those make sense from a dignitary-protection-perspective, if less so from a civil liberties one. But I’m still scratching my head over that selfie-stick ban – unless it was an under-the-table way to discourage the kinds of people likely to use selfie sticks in the first place.

Anyway, to answer James’ question: the gun ban was imposed by the U.S. Secret Service, which gets its lawful authority from federal law, and not the City of Philadelphia (or another Pennsylvania municipality/county). The preemption rules under 18 Pa.C.S. sec. 6120 apply only to Pennsylvania municipalities, therefore they wouldn’t apply to the USSS.

Now, that said, there is one thing that Pennsylvanians who like to open carry should know: be aware that a number of localities affected by the Pope-nado, such as Middletown Township in Bucks County, have declared the existence of a State of Emergency. Until the emergency ends, open carry of firearms is banned under 18 Pa.C.S. sec 6107, unless you have a License to Carry Firearms or you are “[a]ctively engaged in a defense of that person’s life or property from peril or threat.” Just be aware of that before going to an open carry demonstration in S.E. Pennsylvania until the Pope clears out.

[Hat tip: Gabe Rottman @ aclu.org re: NSSEs.]

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DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.

comments

  1. avatar neiowa says:

    So a lame duck congress, working for Bill Fing Clinton, passed >On December 19, 2000, Congress enacted P.L. 106-544, the Presidential Threat Protection Act of2000, and authorized USSS—when directed by the President—to plan, coordinate, and implement security operations at special events of national significance.

    This legislation codified Clinton’s previous “Executive” order so that Presidential whim he can suspended the Constitution. Cool.

    I wonder if the RINOs will bother to reverse this?

    1. avatar Jim Barrett says:

      Not a chance.

      This is also not something that is going to be capriciously used. Sure, while it comes into being under Executive Authority, this is not the sort of thing that Obama or any other President is likely to start throwing around on a whim. The very nature of the thing is encompassed in its name, a National Special Security Event, and the simple fact that while it was passed into law nearly 15 years ago has been rarely used hardly rises to the level of “suspending the Constitution.”

      1. avatar Accur81 says:

        Good thing you’re so comfortable with a city being put under TSA rules because a VIP visits town.

  2. avatar Wiregrass says:

    It would be nice to believe we have “strong” preemption laws.

    http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2015/09/harrisburg_gun_lawsuit_donor_n.html

    Meanwhile the shootings continue in these gun free zones.

    1. avatar working4change says:

      you can ban everything beyond a sharp pencil and Criminals/crazies will do as they please and use any weapon they choose as they choose.

      No Gun Law helps anyone but criminals and Tyrants.

  3. I wonder if the gov’t deemed the martial law exercise a success? Doesn’t the state of emergency prohibition occur only when a Governor declares the SoE?

    1. avatar Jim Barrett says:

      Don’t be an ass. This was nothing like martial law – I don’t remember seeing pictures of police beating and killing protesters. I don’t recall seeing the right to assembly or free speech suspended. I don’t recall seeing the right to free movement suspended. That is what martial law is all about.

      So, people were asked to keep guns (and a whole lot of other things by the way) away from the Pope. The man is the leader of one of the world’s largest religions, is massively popular but is also moving the Catholic church in directions that some people don’t want it to go in. U.S. officials were deathly afraid that someone would take a shot at the Pope (which has happened in the past). Unlike many other protectees, the Pope feels compelled to interact directly with the people, which makes protecting him a hellish job.

      1. avatar Jonathan - Houston says:

        The so-called Pope lives in luxury and jets around with Taylor Swift-style excess. That phony blowhard, false prophet communist, has no interest in “the people” other than keeping them impoverished and supporting him.

        1. avatar I1ULUZ says:

          I am FAR from a religious type. Not a fan of the catholic church, but I do like this Pope, he use to own a Harley, called the guy that delivered his paper to cancel it after he was elected. I believe he lives in the guest apartment vice the papal house in Vatican City. Drives himself around at times, read a story about how he noticed a priest walking one morning, stopped and asked if he wanted a ride.

          If he did those things, that is a sign of a good man no matter what metric you use. It’s sad that any type of leader has to have so much security to be out in the public. Why he flies on a private jet, cause otherwise it would disrupt the whole airport and that flight.

          There are times it pays to think about why things are the way they are, it’s not cause the famous person wanted it, it was being forced by others to be like that.

        2. avatar Grindstone says:

          Or this pope knows how PR works.

        3. avatar Jonathan - Houston says:

          This Pope runs around declaring that the “church does not presume to settle scientific questions”, then proceeds to chide us for “global warming” and our other harmful habits like air conditioning. He has much praise for subsistence farming, neglecting to acknowledge that such drudgery and economic anti-growth is a throwback to countless millennia of misery, scarcity, sickness and poverty. He hasn’t the slightest comprehension of either the practical value or moral virtue of capitalism.

          This is the least intelligent, most partisan, farthest removed “Pope” in anyone living’s lifetime. Let this elitist statist jet around the world railing against fossil fuels all he wants. His worldly ignorance and personal extravagance are on full display.

          The sex assault scandals drove me to reject the church. This communist idiot windbag foreclosed all possibility of my ever returning.

      2. avatar Grindstone says:

        So, people were asked to keep guns (and a whole lot of other things by the way) away from the Pope. The man is the leader of one of the world’s largest religions, is massively popular but is also moving the Catholic church in directions that some people don’t want it to go in. U.S. officials were deathly afraid that someone would take a shot at the Pope (which has happened in the past). Unlike many other protectees, the Pope feels compelled to interact directly with the people, which makes protecting him a hellish job.

        So basically you’re saying he’s more equal than us?

        1. He’s a foreign dignitary plain and simple. Foreign dignitaries are afforded special protections which our dignitaries are glad as hell are reciprocated when they visit 5th world hell holes.

  4. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

    What!?! Bloom County’s back!?! Why was this not on the front page of the New York Times?

    1. avatar John L. says:

      You read the New York Times?

      1. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

        Only if Matt Drudge links to it.

    2. avatar Ronald Pottol says:

      Yes, search on facebook, it’s as awesome as it ever was.

      1. avatar Gov. William J. Le Petomane says:

        Don’t do Facebook so I found them at gocomics.com. Seems to be as good as ever, but in all honesty, how hard can it be to lampoon Trump?

    3. avatar Ken says:

      I agree wholeheartedly. Very big news and I’m already several months behind.

  5. avatar Bill Kohnke says:

    What if your residence or place of work falls within the neutral zone, can you be arrested for having firearms and selfie sticks on your premises, or just blasted to smithereens by security personnel? It must be really tough on any sporting goods stores or Wal-Marts the pope-mobile passes.

  6. avatar Seth says:

    What a creative way of federal commandering to strip us subjects of our rights. Reminds me of the good ole days when we could intern an entire race of people no sweat.
    I’m very impressed with how easily the federal government can subvert the laws of PA.
    Talk about big brother doing whatever the f**k they want to do…

    1. avatar Jim Barrett says:

      No, I guess you’d rather have some gun toting nut job pop the Pope on U.S. soil?

      Seriously, this is largely a non issue. When the Gov’t does something truly egregious and widespread such as the mass firearm confiscations after Katrina, that’s the time to start worrying about subverting laws and doing whatever the heck they want to do.

      1. avatar Curtis in IL says:

        I think the point that has gone unwritten in this thread is that “gun-free zones” have never stopped gun-toting nut jobs from popping people. So this suspension of civil rights (however minor it may seem to you) does nothing to protect the Pope or anyone else.

        Pope John Paul II took four bullets from a gun-toting nut job in 1981. In Vatican City.

        1. avatar Dirk Diggler says:

          2 Pac took 5 shots. Just sayin

      2. avatar Grindstone says:

        Because the pope’s protection is SOOOOO much more important than your own.

        1. In any objectively measurable way it is. People that can’t accept that may have an opinion of themselves which the universe does not seem to support.

        2. avatar Grindstone says:

          So you also agree that Obama’s life is more important than your own? Your family’s.

          Any “objective way” neither of them are more important. Both of them are replaceable. My wife is not. A head of state? Completely replaceable. That’s why we have elections. So what if they’re held earlier than usual? Same for Mr. Funnyhat. If you want to suck on that “nobility is more important than serfs” teat, then move to a country better suited for you, like the UK. Or Arabia.

  7. avatar Anon in CT says:

    Can we make the selfie-stick ban permanent? Please!

  8. avatar Roy says:

    Hmmm… I could see a selfie stick being turned into an AOW.

    1. avatar Billy-bob says:

      Think the nonesuch dude on YouTube has one in 12 gauge.

  9. avatar SuperG says:

    What I found hilarious was the banning of Backpacks and bags exceeding the size restrictions (18″x13″x7″). Apparently DHS doesn’t believe anybody can make an explosive device smaller than that. I guess when you put retards in charge, you get retarded rules.

  10. avatar Sammy^ says:

    I live in Philadelphia. After experiencing the police state atmosphere in my city for the past few days I have a new perspective on the middle east. First I want to state that in my business I discount all military, past and present, as well as police and firemen regardless of where they serve or live. I love our front line men and women. BUT, the sight of troops patrolling my streets and manning check points for some reason infuriated me. And they were my troops. How would I have reacted to UN or forces from another country? I don’t know, but “not as well” is probably the answer. For all who feel the irritation of martial law I believe we should expand our feelings to those who’s countries we occupy.

    1. avatar Johannes Paulsen says:

      That’s why my wife and I GTFO of Pittsburgh when the G-20 summit came to town a few years back, spending a few days in New River Gorge, WV. It was a lot more fun than dodging checkpoints and keeping clear of protesters smashing the windows of local businesses.

  11. avatar Owen says:

    They banned “structures” in a city?!

  12. avatar Bill says:

    I don’t see how this is acceptable. The Constitution as I understand it is there to restrict government from encroaching on state rights and empower collective lawmaking that supported the states, not infringed upon them. While there may be precedent and it may be written that this is OK, under Constitutional scrutiny, I do not see how it is legal. I also don’t understand the difference. The president has stayed in my town recently, and I know more than one carry advocate that walked freely throughout the area marked as a security corridor during his visit. Why does the Pope get different treatment?

    1. avatar Johannes Paulsen says:

      Those who have political power or wealth often avail themselves the tools of government to ensure their own safety and protect their own interests, rhetoric about freedom notwithstanding.

      Or, as Thucydides put it: “Right, as the world goes, is only in question between equals in power, while the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.”

  13. avatar Former Water Walker says:

    Yeah this IS close to martial law-oddly similar to the 2 moose-lim marathon bomber boys with ONE freakin’ handgun shutting down Boston. I get this is a junta supporter for Argentina being a head of state. I was afraid if he got shot in the head he would be miraculously healed of a deadly head wound(just in time for the Blood Moon)…

  14. avatar JasonM says:

    And here on the opposite side of the country, they blocked off entire freeways for hours, so the dictator of China could drive around without the risk off encountering peasants.

    Aren’t you glad we live in a country that prohibits titles of nobility, so no one person’s life is valued above another?

  15. avatar Don in PA says:

    They ran background checks on the tenants and searched their apartments in instances where they had windows overlooking the Pope-Zone. I don’t think they gave a puff of white smoke about violating any rights…

  16. What is so difficult to understand about “shall not infringe”.
    The 2nd Amendment was put into the Constitution so the people could protect themselves from a corrupt government. That is why it says “shall not infringe” so we can have what the government has to prevent a Holocaust. I believe the people should have what the government has including machine guns. The only gun control law there should be is that criminals can’t have any firearms. Thanks for your vote, pass the word. mrpresident2016.com

  17. avatar uncommon_sense says:

    Everybody calm down. This was a perfectly okay exercise of federal government power because the Pope’s visit drew in visitors from all over the country — which affected “Interstate Commerce” — which the Federal Government has unlimited power to regulate in any way, shape, or form as it sees fit.

    /end_sarcasm

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