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Harrisburg goes to court over gun ordinances

By: Lara Greenberg

HARRISBURG, Pa.-- Harrisburg officials are speaking out for the first time about a gun lawsuit in the Capitol City. Both sides went before a judge to plead their case today.

The Dauphin County Courthouse is where city leaders and the lawyer for U.S. Law Shield met Friday morning for the first time. They presented their cases in court over the gun ordinance lawsuit filed last month. The judge made no ruling, but the debate heated up inside and outside the courtroom.

For Harrisburg Mayor Eric Papenfuse, the lawsuit over the city's gun ordinances comes down to one thing: public safety.

"It is my belief and it is the chief's beliefs that these ordinances are in the interest of public safety and in the interest of the public and that's why we're fighting so hard to defend them," Papenfuse said.

Those ordinances are city gun ordinances, which include no firing in the city, unless at a firing range, no guns in parks and reporting stolen guns. But the group, U.S. Law Shield, sued the city last month, saying those laws are illegal and state laws don't allow municipalities to set their own gun laws.

"Right now good citizens are enjoined from doing things that are legal by these illegal ordinances. It has to stop," the attorney for the U.S. Law Shield, Justin McShane said.

The passing of Act 192 allows for groups such as U.S. Law Shield to sue municipalities over gun laws. Both sides made their case known today before a judge. One question that came up in court was self-defense.

"Illegal firearms, that's what we are here to fight against. We are here to protect the citizens of the city," Harrisburg Police Chief Tom Carter said.

"Everyone has the right of self-defense. That's what the mayor said. I agree with him. It's restricted right now in the city because of these ordinances," McShane said.

But city officials say self-defense is not restricted by the ordinances, and one man we spoke with, who owns guns, agrees.

"We have problems, and we're trying to resolve those problems and as far as I'm concerned, we don't need outside entities coming here and causing issues for us," Jacob Howarth, of Penbrook said.

Constitutionality of Act 192 is being challenged in the Commonwealth Court. The city is asking that no ruling be made until a decision is made about Act 192. U.S. Law Shield is hoping the judge will put a stop to Harrisburg's gun laws while the lawsuit goes through the courts. If the city loses, it would have to pay legal fees on both sides according to Act 192. The judge gave no timeline about when a decision would be made.

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