City Council squares off against the state General Assembly in Commonwealth Court this morning over whether the city can enforce its own gun laws.
Council members Darrell Clarke and Donna Reed Miller filed a lawsuit last fall citing a "state-created danger" after several local gun-control laws were passed but not enforced because the General Assembly had not voted on corresponding state legislation.
Clarke and Miller are asking a panel of judges to rule that the state's Uniform Firearm Act does not preempt the city's own gun laws, and to force the General Assembly to accept that legislation.
Today's hearing will focus on challenges to the lawsuit filed by the state House and Senate.
The hearing will be followed by an 11 a.m. gun-control rally in the City Hall courtyard.
The National Rifle Association has joined the case, opposing the city. C. Scott Shields, the NRA's attorney, said the city is "doing an end-run" around Harrisburg.
"The argument is pretty ridiculous," said Shields, adding that the city's crime problem is not caused by guns. "It's just that they don't deal with it effectively."
Philadelphia's gun-control legislation, which Clarke resubmitted to Council in January for a new vote, would limit purchases of handguns to one a month, require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to police, require a police-issued annual license to bring a gun into the city, allow police to confiscate guns from people considered a risk to themselves or others, ban semiautomatic weapons with clips that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition and establish a registry of ammunition sales.
George Bochetto, the attorney representing Clarke and Miller, said that most of those regulations are designed to deal with the "straw-purchasing epidemic" caused by people who buy guns and then sell them to people not permitted to own them.
"We are probably the leading straw-purchase mecca in the country," Bochetto said. "Our straw purchases supply New York and Washington. It's just completely out of control."
Two recent high-profile power struggles between the city and state illustrate how the court may consider the case.
The state Supreme Court allowed Philadelphia to enforce its own campaign-contribution limits because the state's campaign- finance law was silent on contribution limits. But the high court has rejected several attempts to overturn the state's awarding of two casino licenses in Philadelphia because the state gaming law specifically gives that power to the state Gaming Control Board.
Philadelphia is hoping to provoke a reconsideration of the Supreme Court's 1996 ruling that struck down local gun-control laws. Most of the justices who issued that ruling have left the court, leaving only Justice Ron Castille, a former Philadelphia district attorney and now chief justice.
Attorneys for the state House have argued that the question is not which gun-control laws should be used, but who gets to decide, citing previous rulings.
"These cases make plain that the General Assembly alone is empowered to regulate firearms," attorneys for the House said in a court filing in January.
As Clarke and Miller fight the state, the city's gun laws await a new hearing for Council's Public Safety Committee. Mayor Nutter has said that he will enforce those laws with or without the approval of the General Assembly if Council again passes them.