Adopting strict laws to control the straw-purchasing of guns in Philadelphia doesn't go against the state's authority to regulate firearms, City Council members Darrell L. Clarke and Donna Reed Miller told a panel of Commonwealth Court judges this morning.
Those judges indicated that city officials have a steep road to climb with their argument. For them to prevail, the state Supreme Court will have to reverse a 12-year-old ruling that appeared to give the state absolute control over gun laws and prevent Philadelphia from enacting any of its own.
"Aren't we just a way station?" asked President Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter.
Not necessarily, said George Bochetto, attorney for the council members.
Recent "landmark" rulings by the state Supreme Court signal an opportunity for the city to enact its own laws and address the "epidemic" of straw purchases - in which people buy unlimited numbers of handguns legally then sell them illegally. Such proposals include as a a one-gun-a-month purchase limit and a requirement to report a lost or stolen firearms, attorney George Bochetto argued for the Council members.
Clarke and Miller sponsored seven gun control ordinances last year. In deference to a 1996 ruling that seemed to quash any ability the city has to regulate firearms, those laws included a provision that they will not take effect without companion legislation by the state legislature. That never came.
Attorneys for the state Assembly said that provision means that the Council members have no case - their law calls for something they are asking the court to let them do without.
Clarke and Miller introduced similar legislation this year that leaves out the state legislation requirement, and Mayor Nutter suggested he would enforce those laws whether the state legislature approved or not.
The 9:30 a.m. hearing was to be followed by an 11 a.m. rally at City Hall.