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Nutter defiantly signs five gun laws

Council's measures appear to fly in the face of state law and legal precedent. The NRA says it will sue.

The confiscated firearms on display at City Hall include single-shot guns, revolvers, weapons with extended clips, shotguns and semiautomatics.
The confiscated firearms on display at City Hall include single-shot guns, revolvers, weapons with extended clips, shotguns and semiautomatics.Read more

Mayor Nutter likened himself and City Council members yesterday to the band of rebels who formed this country as he signed five new gun-control laws that defy the state legislature and legal precedent.

"Almost 232 years ago, a group of concerned Americans took matters in their own hands and did what they needed to do by declaring that the time had come for a change," Nutter said as he signed the bills in front of a table of confiscated weapons outside the police evidence room in City Hall.

"We are going to make ourselves independent of the violence that's been taking place in this city for far too long," he said.

The five laws - called everything from unconstitutional to criminal by critics - do the following:

Limit handgun purchases to one a month.

Require lost or stolen firearms to be reported to police within 24 hours.

Prohibit individuals under protection-from-abuse orders from possessing guns if ordered by the court.

Allow removal of firearms from "persons posing a risk of imminent personal injury" to themselves or others.

Outlaw the possession and sale of certain assault weapons.

Nutter said he would begin to enforce the laws immediately, with the exception of the one-gun-a-month requirement, which takes effect in six months.

He and Council are in for a fight, however. The city has tried and failed for three decades to buck the 1974 state law that reserves gun regulation to the state legislature. The state's preeminence appeared to be cemented in a 1996 Supreme Court ruling that allowed the legislature to prevent Philadelphia and Pittsburgh from enacting local gun laws.

Recent efforts include a 2005 referendum in which city voters, by a 4-1 ratio, demanded that the state allow the city to pass its own gun laws. Council members Darrell L. Clarke and Donna Reed Miller sponsored a set of gun-control measures bills last year, then sued the legislature to allow them to move forward. That case is pending.

National Rifle Association spokesman John Hohenwarter said he expected the organization to sue "within a short time frame."

Kim Stolfer, vice chairman of the Pennsylvania Sportsmen's Association's legislative committee, said the organization was considering its legal options and suggested that the enactment of the laws was a criminal act.

"He's committing five misdemeanor crimes," Stolfer said. "What kind of message is he sending when he and City Council are willing to commit crimes for issues that are not going to work?"

Nutter and Council are not likely to find a great deal of support in the legislature.

State Representative John M. Perzel (R., Phila.) said through a spokesman that the laws were unconstitutional. House Speaker Dennis M. O'Brien (R. Phila.) did not return a call for comment, and State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo (D., Phila.) declined to comment.

Even the city's fiercest proponent of stricter gun laws in the legislature, Democratic Rep. Dwight Evans, offered only lukewarm support.

Evans spokeswoman Johnna Pro said: "No one . . . feels the frustration" of city leaders more than Evans, so he would not criticize them.

But Evans, she said, also is a leader in the House of Representatives and "believes that everyone needs to allow the process to work, even though the process, at times, may be excruciatingly slow and incredibly unresponsive."

Phil Goldsmith, president of the gun-control advocacy group CeaseFire PA, said "it's worth trying" to enact and test the laws.

"It's a shame the city has to do something like this because the legislature has failed to exercise its responsibilities," Goldsmith said.

Council members Clarke and Miller pared their package down from nine bills, including two that would create registries of gun sales, to the five that they say would stand a constitutional challenge.

Nutter embraced the idea of taking "direct action" to challenge a legal status quo to protect city residents.

"If we all sat around bemoaning what the law was on a regular basis," Nutter said. "I'd probably still be picking cotton somewhere as opposed to being mayor of the city of Philadelphia."