Proclaiming that Philadelphia’s parks and recreation centers should be as safe from gun violence as are its courtrooms, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and other elected officials announced Wednesday that they are proposing state legislation to ban guns and other deadly weapons from those areas.
The lawmakers, all Democrats, acknowledged that securing passage of the “Safe Haven” bills would not be easy in a Senate and House controlled by Republicans, but said failure is assured if they don’t try.
“There were 18 gun crimes committed on or at city recreation centers last year. There were 526 crimes committed at city rec centers in 2018. It is off the chart. So it is clearly time for us to move the needle,” Clarke said at a news conference at the Mander Recreation Center in Strawberry Mansion.
The lawmakers’ pleas came 11 days after seven people were injured in a mass shooting at the Baker Playground in Overbrook, and 5½ weeks after a Father’s Day shooting at Finnegan Playground in Southwest Philadelphia left one man dead and five people wounded. No arrests have been made in either case.
“We will have to work across the aisle, up the aisle, down the aisle, across the state, and everywhere and in every corner to garner support for this legislation. But for our children, it is worth it,” said State Rep. Donna Bullock, sponsor of the proposed House legislation.
“It’s not complicated. It’s very simple. Protect these places for children and for our communities,” said State Sen. Vincent Hughes, sponsor of the proposed Senate legislation.
Hughes and Bullock said they were still drafting their bills and planned to introduce them in September after City Council passes enabling legislation.
“It should be a no-brainer,” City Councilwoman Cindy Bass told the state lawmakers on hand. “It should not be difficult at all. But we already know what we’re working with out of Harrisburg. So listen: We stand with you, we stand with you ready to fight.”
Previous attempts to tighten regulations on guns in Philadelphia have been slapped down in Harrisburg and in the courts.
In 1993, Council passed a bill banning assault-style weapons, but the state legislature passed a law repealing the ban. The state Supreme Court then struck down the ban.
In 2008, Commonwealth Court struck down city ordinances banning assault weapons and limiting handgun purchases to one per person per month. And in 2013, a City Council bill banning guns in parks and at rec centers also was stopped by state lawmakers.
Current state law, which prohibits local governments from restricting gun access, states: “No county, municipality, or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer, or transportation of firearms, ammunition, or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this commonwealth.”
The Philadelphia lawmakers at the news conference noted that state law prohibits possession of guns in state courthouses in the city and across the state. They asked why parks and rec centers could not have the same protections.
“We’re simply saying, ‘You want to protect people that are in courthouses because of the volatile nature of what’s happening, or what potentially could happen in courthouses.’ Well, guess what? We need to do the same thing in rec centers,” Clarke said.