City Council staked out its position on a new gun-control issue Thursday, passing a bill that would require people who carry concealed guns in public places to be licensed in Pennsylvania.
The bill, introduced by Councilman Darrell Clarke, would eliminate the so-called "Florida loophole," which allows owners here to obtain nonresident licenses through the mail even without a Pennsylvania permit.
Council unanimously approved the bill, but late in the day, Clarke said he would have to recall it because a clerk accidentally submitted an incorrect version that did not include key amendments. Clarke plans to put the amended bill up for Council approval Feb. 17 and is certain it will pass again.
Gun-control bills passed by Council in the past have failed in court, but Clarke said he thinks this legislation will survive potential legal challenges. For one thing, he believes public support for gun restrictions has grown after the shooting in Tucson, Ariz., of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
"We anticipate push-back, particularly from the NRA," Clarke said. "But we think it will pass legal muster."
John Hohenwarter, state liaison for the National Rifle Association, said the legislation would fail because the State of Pennsylvania, not Philadelphia, has the right to regulate guns.
"If that were to be litigated, that would lose," Hohenwarter said. "It's nothing more than political grandstanding and, if it does go to litigation, a waste of taxpayer dollars."
The state's right to legislate gun issues has trumped Council before, killing legislation, for example, that would have limited gun purchases in Philadelphia to one a month.
Former District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham said she could not enforce previous gun-control laws passed by Council because state law preempts local laws. A spokesman for District Attorney Seth Williams said he could not comment on a bill he had not seen.
Clarke and his staff believe the bill will withstand legal tests. They say Pennsylvania law clearly requires state residents to have a Pennsylvania license to carry a concealed weapon. While Pennsylvania has reciprocity agreements recognizing gun licenses from other states, they are meant to allow state residents to carry guns when visiting other states, not to override the requirement for a Pennsylvania license, according to a written explanation of the bill.
Mark McDonald, a spokesman for Mayor Nutter, said: "Assuming there are no technical issues to be resolved, the mayor is likely to sign this bill."
Clarke said he believes that requiring a Pennsylvania firearms license could make it harder for criminals to get guns.
"The gun laws in Florida, frankly speaking, are much less stringent," he said.