PITTSBURGH – A Democratic prosecutor refused to approve criminal charges Friday against his fellow Democrats (Pittsburgh’s mayor and six City Council members) over the passage of gun control laws that are blatant and deliberate violations of state law.
City residents filed private criminal complaints against Mayor Bill Peduto, who signed the legislation into law this week, and council members who voted to approve the measures. The complaints charge the mayor and council with official oppression and other counts.
Pennsylvania law allows citizens to file criminal charges, subject to approval by the district attorney. The office of Democratic Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala Jr. refused to accept the residents’ complaints Friday, saying prosecutors would ignore the violation of state preemption law and not even weigh criminal charges against the mayor and council until the new gun laws begin to take effect in about two months and someone is cited for violating them.
“We will consider a private complaint if somebody is aggrieved by the law,” Zappala’s spokesman, Mike Manko, told the residents Friday.
“Why do I have to be arrested? Why do I have to fall on a sword? Now, I have a criminal record,” replied Tony Golembiewski, one of the residents who tried to file charges.
The bills were passed after a mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue that killed 11 worshippers. Gun rights advocates are suing to get the laws overturned, noting Pennsylvania law forbids municipalities from regulating the ownership or possession of firearms and ammunition. Courts have thrown out previous municipal attempts at regulation.
The Pittsburgh legislation bans semi-automatic, centerfire rifles like the AR-15 authorities say was used in the synagogue attack. It also bans certain types of ammunition and standard-capacity magazines, and includes a local version of “Red Flag” gun confiscation.
Zappala warned the council in January that it didn’t have legal authority to pass gun control legislation and predicted his office would be confronted with residents demanding criminal charges against council members who approved such a law.
In a statement, the residents said that Peduto and Council “knew the illegality of their actions, yet pressed forward with them anyway.”
The residents may appeal Zappala’s decision in court. They said Friday that no decision had been made.