On the same day that hundreds of gun-rights supporters rallied in the state Capitol, a firebrand member of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives said he would begin impeachment proceedings against Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto over the city’s new gun control ordinances.
State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, who’s circulating the impeachment resolution, told the Capital-Star Monday that Peduto “brazenly” violated the state Constitution when he signed the bills, which include restrictions on the use of assault-style weapons and high capacity ammunition magazines. Peduto also signed into law a measure that allows authorities to temporarily seize firearms from a person deemed at risk of harming himself or others.
Under Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act, municipalities are prevented from regulating “the transfer, ownership, transportation, or possession of firearms.”
But in the wake of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in October 2018, which left 11 worshipers dead, members of Pittsburgh City Council said they felt compelled to introduce their own gun control bills, despite possible legal challenges.
The ordinances banning the use of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines in public places are scheduled to take effect 60 days after April 9, when Peduto signed the bills. The red flag law goes into effect 180 days after that date.
Like it did in the 1990s, Pittsburgh City Council again voted to ban the ownership of assault weapons within city limits. However, the current measure will only take effect if and when the Legislature or state Supreme Court gives the go ahead.
Gun rights groups have already promised to challenge the laws in court, and Pittsburgh is prepared to defend them with pro bono legal assistance from the national group Everytown for Gun Safety.
According to Metcalfe, however, the city’s willful violation of state law requires swift condemnation by the General Assembly.
“We, as lawmakers, have an obligation to hold accountable other lawmakers and mayors,” Metcalfe said. “[Impeachment] is the legislative avenue to accountability.”
Metcalfe said that a lawyer for the House Republican caucus has already drafted a resolution that would initiate the impeachment proceedings.
If the House passed the resolution, it would then convene a subcommittee to investigate Peduto, according to Metcalfe. Once its investigation is complete, the mayor’s impeachment case would go before the state Senate, which must consider the subcommittee’s findings and vote on removing Peduto from office.
The resolution won’t go to the House floor for a vote unless it has the support of Republican leadership. And a spokesperson for House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, indicated Monday that’s unlikely to happen.
“We’re not interested in pursuing impeachment,” Cutler spokesman Mike Straub said Monday. “Pittsburgh residents will decide who their mayor is. The legislature doesn’t need to be involved at this time.”
Metcalfe was nonetheless optimistic Monday that his colleagues will support his resolution.
He hopes it will at least be more successful than a 2014 attempt to impeach then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who is now in state prison on federal charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
Metcalfe’s resolution to impeach Kane never passed through the House. But Metcalfe said that impeachment proceedings can be valuable even if they don’t succeed, since House subcommittees have subpoena power and can reveal misconduct by subject of their investigation.
Metcalfe also insisted that the General Assembly has the right to impeach any elected or appointed official in the state.
Gun control advocates expressed exasperation at Metcalfe’s calls for impeachment Monday, saying that local officials have chosen to regulate firearms because state lawmakers have failed to do so.
Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFire PA, a gun control advocacy group, said municipal officials like Peduto are frustrated by the lack of gun control action from the Capitol in Harrisburg.
“Harrisburg claims the right to preempt gun control and is doing nothing,” Goodman said. “Mayors want to take this matter into their own hands.”
She also said that the Legislature should allow Pennsylvania’s courts to litigate the legality of Pittsburgh’s gun ordinances.
Rep. Sara Innamorato, a Pittsburgh Democrat, said her constituents have been “extremely hungry” for gun control legislation since the Tree of Life massacre. Pittsburgh lawmakers were simply responding to that desire when they passed ordinances that they knew would be open to legal challenge, she said.
“[State] lawmakers have shown they cannot take action,” Innamorato said. “From the mayor’s perspective, this is the action we should be taking in the statehouse to keep our communities safe.”
A spokesperson for Peduto said Monday that the mayor is more focused on governing Pittsburgh than warding off impeachment proceedings.
“Mayor Peduto is focused on solving the mass shooting epidemic endangering our neighborhoods, schools and places of worship, and not political games like this,” spokesperson Timothy McNulty said.
But McNulty acknowledged there would be a certain irony in Metcalfe ousting the current mayor only to see Peduto succeeded by Pittsburgh City Council President Bruce Kraus, who is gay.
Metcalfe is a steadfast opponent of LGBTQ rights.
“If the Representative wants [Peduto] replaced with Pittsburgh’s first openly gay mayor, that’s fine,” McNulty said.