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Philly wrangles with NRA over local gun laws

The state, city and NRA are caught up in a fight over local control of gun laws.

Guns on display inside a South Philly gun shop.

Metro file photo/Charles Mostoller

In an effort to stem the rising tide of murder and mayhem in the City of Brotherly Love, Philadelphia lawmakers are working to protect local gun rules, as a lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association under a controversial new state law seeks to dismantle those rules.

The city has also filed a lawsuit to invalidate Act 192, signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett in November, that prohibits any township or municipality from enacting gun-related ordinances that aren’t already part of state law.

“I think a lot of people maybe didn't realize how significant this was,” Shira Goodman, executive director of Ceasefire PA, said of the new state law. “It’s about any kind of ordinance that involves the word firearm.”

“Now, you can ban smoking in parks, but not guns. You can ban bows and arrows in parks, but not guns,” she said.

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Additionally, the law includes a provision allowing lawsuits against towns and cities that violate the law, which Goodman said is rare in general.

“There’s no other right to sue about something a township does unless you have been impacted by it - only with firearms,” she said.

Mayor Michael Nutter called ACT 192 “legislative madness” after it was signed in November. He joined state legislators from the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas, along with the cities of Pittsburgh and Lancaster, to file a suit in Commonwealth Court in Harrisburg to invalidate the law.

The battle over gun control in Pennsylvania cities is turning into a three ring circus. Now, the National Rifle Association has filed its own lawsuits two weeks ago under Act 192 against Philly, Pittsbugh and Lancaster, claiming damages to their Pennsylvania members from local gun control ordinances.

“A patchwork of local gun control ordinances creates confusion for law-abiding citizens as they travel throughout the Commonwealth, as well as for law enforcement officers as to what laws can be enforced,” said a press release from the NRA announcing the lawsuits. “The illegal ordinances in question do not make people safer.”

Meanwhile in Philadelphia, City Council President Darrell Clarke and Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who oppose Act 192, have sponsored a bill to consolidate city gun rules, and remove obsolete provisions.

The bill is intended as part of a legal strategy, should Philly be forced to defend its gun ordinances in court against the NRA, according to Goodman.

“They want to only defend the exemptions that they think are well within their power or are most important to the safety of Philadelphia,” she said.

The bill passed favorably out of committee Thursday. Neither council member responded to a request for comment Sunday.

However, Goodman did object to the bill potentially removing an ordinance that would allow guns to be seized from people under an active order of protection.

“That’s one of the ordinances that they are challenging and I think that it shows their lawsuit is not about public safety but about challenging regulation of any kind,” she said. “This is the kind of thing the legislature wants to spend talking about -- not ‘how can we keep guns away from getting to people without background checks.”

The NRA’s lawsuit against Philadelphia specifically refers to these specific ordinances: an ordinance allowing guns to be removed from a person found to “pose a risk of imminent harm to themselves or others;” to forbid people under a protection of abuse order from buying or possessing a gun if the order says they cannot have a gun; requiring lost or stolen guns to be reported within 24 hours; bans on carrying firearms in public, carrying guns in city facilities, a ban on the public sale of guns during a declared emergency, and a ban on minors under the age of 18 firing guns.

The NRA has about 100,000 members in Pennsylvania.

 
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