Metal detector on hold while West Mifflin officials study law
Gun rights' activists challenge council's November vote
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
By Mary Niederberger, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Plans to install a metal detector at the entrance to West Mifflin council chambers appear to be temporarily on hold while borough officials investigate the legality of such an action.
At its November meeting, council voted unanimously to authorize borough Manager Howard Bednar to purchase a metal detector and have it installed at one of the two entrances to council chambers to prevent members of the public from bringing a gun into the meetings.
Council members said no particular incident prompted the action, but rather that they were trying to be proactive with the measure.
But after an article on the metal detector ran in the Post-Gazette South on Dec. 11, gun rights advocates contacted West Mifflin officials and the Post-Gazette claiming that state law prohibits municipalities from creating their own gun control laws and that it would be illegal to stop an individual from carrying a legally registered gun into a council meeting.
"The law is pretty clear on this," said Mike Stollenwerk, co-founder of OpenCarry.org.
Mr. Bednar said the concerns of the gun rights advocates have been forwarded to borough solicitor Mike Adams.
"Once he gets done reviewing it, we will proceed accordingly," Mr. Bednar said.
Though the manager originally hoped to have the metal detector purchased and ready for use at the Jan. 20 council meeting, no purchase would be made until the solicitor finishes his review.
After West Mifflin council approved the purchase and installation of the metal detector in November, Mr. Bednar made tentative plans for its use, which called for stationing it at one of the entrances to council chambers and blocking off the other entrance.
Those plans called for a borough police officer to operate the metal detector and to stop anyone from entering the council meeting with a gun.
Under the plan, people who were legally carrying guns would not be prohibited from attending the meeting, but they would required to leave their guns outside of the chambers.
Mr. Stollenwerk and Kim Stolfer, chairman of the legislative committee for the Allegheny County Sportsmen's League and chairman of the Firearms Owners Against Crime political action committee, said West Mifflin's plan is illegal and that the municipality will face a court challenge if it is enacted.
Under Pennsylvania law, those who hold a license to carry firearms are permitted to possess and transport them anywhere in the state except onto school property or courthouse facilities. A specific exemption in the state law prohibits counties and municipalities from regulating the possession, ownership or transportation of firearms, but not their discharge.
Mr. Stollenwerk and Mr. Stolfer pointed out that in Pennsylvania a permit is not necessary to openly carry a firearm. But since it is necessary to transport one, most gun owners must have permits to carry them.
"Unless you are going to walk everywhere you go, you will need a permit, Mr. Stolfer said.
Both men have sent e-mails to West Mifflin borough officials and Mr. Stolfer visited the borough building last week to inform that proposed use of the metal detector is illegal.
Mr. Stolfer said if council does not drop its plans to use the metal detector, he and others from his organization will likely attend the Jan. 20 council meeting to protest.
Peters council in Washington County faced a similar dispute last year when it enacted a ban on guns at most township-owned properties after a resident carried a handgun into a heated zoning hearing board meeting.
The ban was later lifted after angry residents and gun rights activists, including Mr. Stolfer, lobbied council saying the ordinance was unconstitutional and illegal.
Mary Niederberger can be reached at email@example.com or