Recently, I commented briefly on how Allegheny County is failing to conduct sunset reviews every four years as mandated by the Home Rule Charter. Sunset reviews help determine whether taxpayer dollars are being used appropriately and the current review is three years late.
The failure of County Government to obey the law even as it expects citizens to follow the law in their everyday lives is representative of a larger double standard whereby governments live by different rules than those they govern. But while this situation by itself is troubling, The Publius Foundation recently verified that this double standard extends to local courts as well.
Specifically, our research reveals that Magisterial District Courts in Allegheny County fail to comply with 18 Pa.C.S. § 913 – the law banning the “possession of firearm or other dangerous weapon in court facility.” 18 Pa.C.S. § 913 stipulates that, because courts are weapons-free areas, “Each county shall make available at or within the building containing a court facility by July 1, 2002, lockers or similar facilities at no charge or cost for the temporary checking of firearms by persons carrying firearms….”
Although the deadline for compliance was 2002, none of the 48 Magisterial District Courts in Allegheny County currently are in compliance with this law. While this may seem like a small matter, the provision of lockers for the checking of firearms protects the rights of those who carry firearms and also ensures that firearms left outside of the courtroom will be secured rather than simply left in a car.
In researching this issue, I spoke with Nancy Galvach, manager of the magisterial district courts in Allegheny County, who confirmed that the County’s 48 magisterial district courts do not currently provide lockers or other facilities for the securing of firearms. Galvach said that, in the past, courts have had police take possession of guns in lieu of storing them in lockers and that, if a citizen would like, cases can be transferred to Pittsburgh Municipal Court which does have lockers.
While I’m certain that Galvach is well-intentioned in presenting the above compromises, it is difficult to imagine a private citizen — brought before these same courts — being allowed to make a compromise in how he or she obeys a particular law. Indeed, it also seems peculiarly unfair to ask those citizens who carry firearms to travel from their local magisterial district court to the Pittsburgh Municipal Court simply because their local court is not in compliance with the law.
Furthermore, the moral superiority of the courts is cast in doubt when they themselves are not in compliance with the laws that they are designed to interpret and uphold. In order to protect the rights of those who carry firearms and protect the moral standing of our local courts, magisterial district courts must comply with 18 Pa.C.S. § 913. Failure to comply with the law a full eight years after the deadline for compliance passed demonstrates a disrespect for the law that undermines the authority of these courts to stand in judgment of local citizens.