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Gun-rights group persuading dozens of towns to repeal firearms regs in legal blitz

A Washington state-based gun rights group is steadily persuading cities and towns across the country to repeal local firearms regulations and give that power back to the states. 

The organization, the Second Amendment Foundation, is working to invalidate city ordinances by arguing that they're in conflict with looser state regulations. So far, it seems to be working. The group says it's been able to overturn more than 100 gun-related ordinances this way, most recently in Utah.  

“We’re going state by state, going through every single ordinance of every city and county in every state and finding where the cities and counties have ordinances enacted that are in conflict with state law,” Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the SAF, told FoxNews.com.

Usually this means repealing local ordinances that run afoul of state law which, in turn, gives almost all gun-regulating power to the state. These cities and local communities still have the authority to outlaw someone shooting a gun but not necessarily possessing or carrying them.

“It’s pretty clever,” Florida State University College of Law Professor Franita Tolson told FoxNews.com. “If you can’t change it on a federal level, you attack it on a local level.”

So far, Gottlieb’s group has helped overturn gun rules in nine states, including Illinois, California, North Carolina, New Mexico and Nevada. SAF’s Legal Preemption Project latest target is Utah. 

The organization recently mailed letters to 49 municipalities in Utah -- one of the most gun-friendly states in the country. Three years ago, Utah became the first state in the nation to recognize an official state gun -- the M1911 semi-automatic pistol.

That doesn’t matter to SAF.

With the precision of a marksman, the group, which has been called the legal arm of the gun-rights movement, has already gotten several cities in Utah to change their codes.

West Point, a small community located about 30 minutes north of Salt Lake City, swapped out their current law banning guns in the city cemetery earlier this week and replaced it with one that prohibits firing a gun in the graveyard.

Twenty miles south of Salt Lake in the city of Draper, a ban on guns in the amphitheater and local parks was also lifted. An ordinance prohibiting anyone from firing a gun at those locations was put in its place. 

“By and large most of the jurisdictions have amended their ordinances,” Gottlieb said. “We have a reputation and a track record. We do file lawsuits and we do win.”

Currently, SAF has more than two dozen active lawsuits around the country.

In May, the group sued the city of Tallahassee, its mayor John Marks and City Commissioners Nancy Miller, Andrew Gillum and Gil Ziffer.

The lawsuit claims that under the city’s ordinance, which criminalizes the discharge of firearms and airguns, there is no provision that carves out an exception for the lawful use of a firearm in self-defense. 

“Tallahassee has way over-stepped its authority under state preemption,” Gottlieb said when filing the suit. “The Florida Legislature has exclusive domain over firearms regulation. When the law was passed, it nullified all existing, and future, city and county firearm ordinances and regulations.”

“This is not the first time we have had to take a city to court for violating a state preemption law,” Gottlieb added. “Why municipal governments still don’t understand the concept of preemption is a mystery to us.”

Tolson, who teaches in Tallahassee, says fighting it out in court isn’t the smartest option for some. “If you are a small municipality, it may not be worth it for you to fight,” she said. “Why fight if you think you’ll lose?”

David Kopel, an adjunct professor of law at New York University, agrees. He told FoxNews.com cash-strapped cities and towns don’t have the budget to fight groups like SAF and would have to explain to their residents why so much of their taxpayer money was being used for a legal battle.

As it racks up wins, the foundation is moving on to bigger targets. 

SAF sued the city of Seattle over a regulatory ban on guns in city park facilities, and was also instrumental in the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court case that challenged Chicago’s handgun ban. In that case, the Windy City’s 28-year-old ban on handgun ownership was ruled unconstitutional.

With a full-time staff of one lawyer, SAF harvests much of its research from law school students on internships.

“We run lean and mean,” Gottlieb said.