Judge blocks new Philadelphia gun laws

April 17, 2008 8:58:20 PM PDT
A judge on Thursday temporarily blocked the city from enforcing new, local gun-control laws until she hears a challenge from the National Rifle Association. The NRA argues that state law prevents Pennsylvania municipalities from regulating guns, a view that even the city's crime-weary district attorney shares.

"The city has no basis to pass any of these gun-control ordinances and they know it," lawyer C. Scott Shields argued on the NRA's behalf.

City lawyers posit that Philadelphia can pass gun-control ordinances if the laws are outside the scope of state measures. As an example, lawyer Mark Zecca told the judge that one Pennsylvania county had banned guns at its courthouse.

Common Pleas Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan scheduled arguments for April 28. She said she would rule very quickly, although her decision is sure to be appealed by the losing side.

Among other things, the five city ordinances passed April 10 ban the sale of assault weapons; require owners to report a lost or stolen gun within 24 hours; and limit firearms purchases to one a month. They came in response to the city's one-a-day murder rate and its reputation for being a weapons source for criminals in New York and other states with strict gun laws.

Mayor Michael Nutter, who declared a "crime emergency" shortly after taking office in January, quickly signed the City Council bills into law - despite still-pending litigation over earlier gun-control efforts.

Council members Darrell L. Clarke and Donna Reed Miller sponsored a set of gun-control measures last year, then sued the Legislature to allow them to move forward. That case is pending.

In 2005, Philadelphia voters passed a nonbinding referendum - by a 4-1 ratio - imploring the state to let the city enact its own gun laws.

The court ruling that gave the state power over gun laws dates to 1974. On Tuesday, city District Attorney Lynne Abraham called the new statutes unconstitutional and said she would not enforce them.

Cutler Greenspan seemed interested in the city's argument about creating laws "outside the zone" of the state power. But she also sympathized with gun retailers who might not know what they can legally sell while the case is litigated.

Shields' clients include retailers who regularly sell assault weapons, he said.

"People have to know how to behave. They really do," Cutler Greenspan said. "I'm just trying to maintain the status quo for a very short time.

"Hopefully," she added, half under her breath, "nobody will be shot with a gun purchased (in the next few weeks)."


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