A lawyer for the National Rifle Association told a state appeals court yesterday that Philadelphia has no authority to implement an assault-weapons ban because such a measure deals with constitutional rights.
The NRA is challenging a series of gun-control measures that City Council passed in an effort to combat gun violence. Mayor Nutter signed the bills even though the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has previously upheld the state's exclusive right to enact gun laws.
Lawyer C. Scott Shields, who represents the NRA, said the city simply isn't allowed to regulate firearms.
"When you deal with firearms rights, you deal with constitutional rights which have statewide concern," Shields told Commonwealth Court. "If you're not a prohibited person and you own an AR-15, that's lawful."
After City Council passed the five gun-control ordinances in April, Common Pleas Court Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan blocked two of them, ruling that it would almost certainly be illegal for the city to implement a one-gun-a-month limit and an assault-weapons ban.
But she allowed three other measures to stand. Those laws require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns within 48 hours; allow police to confiscate guns from people who are considered a danger; and prohibit anyone subject to a protection-from-abuse order from possessing a gun.
The NRA is challenging all five ordinances.
"Most of my clients have machine guns," Shields said. "They are absolutely lawful."
Police already have the authority to seize weapons if they are being used unlawfully, he said.
But a city attorney, Richard Feder, said he believes that state law is unclear over what weapons are banned and what weapons are not banned.
"The NRA presented no evidence that these weapons have any civilized purpose whatsoever in our society," Feder said.
The city ordinances, he said, would impose only "minimal, incidental imposition" on the rights of lawful gun purchasers.
A 1974 state law says that only the General Assembly can regulate guns, but the Philadelphia case is being watched by other cities in the state. Allentown and Pottsville have passed measures requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns. Other cities, including Pittsburgh and Lancaster, have considered similar legislation.
In September, Commonwealth Court threw out a separate lawsuit about Philadelphia's ability to pass its own gun laws.
That suit, filed by City Council members Darrell L. Clarke and Donna Reed Miller, sought to have the court declare that the city could pass its own firearms laws. The ruling has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.