PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Pittsburgh’s mayor shot back at its district attorney on Tuesday after the DA said earlier this month that the city does not have the legal authority to enact gun legislation.
Earlier this month, Allegheny County DA Stephen A. Zappala Jr. issued a letter to Councilman Corey O’Connor, saying, in part, “I am certain that you realize that if such legislation passes, there is sure to be a resident of Allegheny County who seeks to file a private criminal complaint alleging a violation of (the constitution),” referring to a state statute that prohibits municipal regulation of firearms.
Peduto’s response on Tuesday was pointed, to say the least.
“Why he wants to threaten council members with the potential of arrest if they would vote for gun reform is beyond me,” Peduto said. “I have no idea. It doesn’t even make sense politically, why he is doing. The further point is, anybody who would threaten a legislator of any body – city council, state rep, congress member – that you will be arrested if you don’t vote a certain way … what country do we live in?”
While at no point in his letter did Zappala actually say he was going to “arrest” council members, as Peduto alleges, Zappala did say gun legislation at the local level would open up the city council to lawsuits.
“While I certainly see the desire for such type of legislation at the state and federal levels, I believe that city council does not have the authority to pass such legislation,” Zappala’s letter said.
“Arrest me. You know what, I welcome him trying to put up a lawsuit that would arrest me if I sign this legislation,” Peduto said. “I would welcome that. It would be unprecedented simply because he doesn’t support gun reform or he is somehow so convinced the gun lobby is so important to his election that he would threaten to arrest legislators would support gun reform is astounding.
“If this broke nationally, it would be one of the biggest stories in the country. The district attorney is threatening city council members, who he has no authority over, to be arrested if they pass gun reform.”
Mike Manko, the chief spokesman for the DA’s office, responded in a statement on Tuesday, saying, “The statements from the city do not accurately reflect the content of the letter that the District Attorney communicated to council. The letter has no relation to politics or policy. It is about process and legality.
“That said, this is not the first time that District Attorney Zappala has had to inform public officials that they were acting contrary to established law.”
The dust-up is over legislation drafted by O’Connor, Councilwoman Erika Strassburger and Peduto’s office. The proposed legislation was announced outside council chambers on Dec. 14 and was supported by the governor and the mayor.
The city wants to ban assault rifles, accessories like bump stocks and allow courts to temporarily prohibit anyone determined to be dangerous from possessing a gun.
“Right now you are talking about passing something that you don’t have the statutory authority to do,” Zappala said. “Once you start arresting people, there are constitutional implications to that, there are civil rights implications. I think this could open up a Pandora’s box.”
O’Connor said the letter does not change his stance or the city’s plan.
“He has every right to his own opinion, we are still going to move forward,” O’Conner said.
Peduto, who is keeping the city’s legal strategy close to the vest, said he is confident the city council has a decent case to make that it will “change the discussion in Harrisburg and Washington.”
Peduto will be meeting with other city leaders in Washington, D.C., this week at the U.S. Conference of Mayors, speaking with the mayors of Parkland, Las Vegas and Orlando, among others.
“I’ll be speaking before two different committees on a national basis about the importance of what Pittsburgh is doing and why other cities need to join in as well,” he said. “I do believe Pittsburgh has a responsibility after what happened on October 27th and what happens every month in this city – to be able to lessen gun violence, and part of that deals directly with guns.”