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Pro bono offer for legal defense in gun lawsuit

Back in 2009, several Pennsylvania cities were deciding whether to pass a “lost or stolen” gun ordinance. The NRA had threatened lawsuits if they di...

Back in 2009, several Pennsylvania cities were deciding whether to pass a “lost or stolen” gun ordinance. The NRA had threatened lawsuits if they did. But there was an offer to pay for the costs of those lawsuits, if they happened.

In Lancaster, the minutes from May 26th, 2009, show that a representative from the National Coalition of Mayors (an anti-gun violence group) made an offer that he said came from the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence.

The document recording his City Council statement says, “Should the NRA instigate a lawsuit, the Brady Campaign has offered the full service of their legal team to provide pro bono legal coverage to any city that is threatened to be served with a lawsuit…”

And two months later, minutes from the Erie City Council showed a similar offer, as that council discussed the same issue. The minutes show a letter from the western PA coordinator from CeaseFire PA: “…in the event that a lawsuit occurs, the Brady Center has promised to represent pro bono (free of charge) any Pennsylvania municipality that passes lost or stolen handgun reporting. The Brady Center has given me the authority to convey this offer to Erie.”

The executive director of CeaseFire PA says she was not in the position when the offer was made, and her organization does not have its own legal team.

“If people want us to be an intermediary with Brady or with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence or with other firms throughout Pennsylvania, we will,” says Shira Goodman of CeaseFire PA.

Lancaster is now facing a lawsuit from the NRA based on its gun ordinance. Act 192 passed last year, giving national gun owners’ groups standing to sue municipalities.

The city is using its insurance policy to pay for its legal defense. But there is a $25,000 deductible. The mayor says he never expected pro bono help from any group, even the ones that pushed for the ordinance.

“Something has to be done about gun violence,” says Mayor Rick Gray. “This is a small step in that direction. But I don’t think anybody was counting on anybody else.”

But the city is counting on people to donate. They’re soliciting online donations for the legal defense.

Harrisburg, being sued by national group U.S. Law Shield on the same grounds, has a $250,000 deductible to cover and officials there are also soliciting donations.

The Brady Campaign says the man who made the offer to Lancaster was not speaking on behalf of the Brady Campaign. At the time, the Brady Campaign was helping Pittsburgh when the city was sued by the NRA, but a spokesman says that was on different legal grounds. “The Brady Campaign promised and fulfilled its promise to represent Pittsburgh,” says a spokesman at the Brady Campaign.

“We understand they’ve been put in a terrible position of standing behind the ordinances they passed because they thought they were in the best interests of the public, and trying to protect the budget,” says Goodman says of Lancaster, Harrisburg, Philly and Pittsburgh, all of which are standing by their gun ordinances and facing lawsuits.

City officials are hoping the Commonwealth Court will find Act 192 unconstitutional, and negate the lawsuits.

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