City Council unanimously passed eight long-delayed gun control bills yesterday, deliberately picking a fight with lawmakers in Harrisburg who have consistently refused to give Philadelphia the right to enact its own gun laws.
In addition, Council will soon file a lawsuit in Common Pleas Court against the General Assembly to win the city the authority it needs to legally pass its own firearms legislation, said Councilman Darrell Clarke, who cosponsored the bills with Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller.
"It's utterly ridiculous where we are right now. It's an aberration when somebody doesn't get killed," Clarke said. "We can't wait any longer."
Among other controls, the bills would limit gun purchases to one a month and would require gun owners to promptly report lost or stolen firearms.
Just what happens next - with this legally questionable legislation - isn't clear. Before the Council meeting, Councilman James F. Kenney asked: "What would they do, arrest us?"
When asked about the legislation and Council's pending lawsuit, Pennsylvania House Speaker Dennis O'Brien (R., Phila.) turned attention to his own crime control package, which is focused on the prison system and recidivism.
"Every issue that would attack violence should be debated," O'Brien said of the city's gun control laws, "but there has to be a realization of what can be done."
Clarke introduced the bills in 2004, but they languished as Council waited for Harrisburg to, as he put it, "come around."
"I've been holding these bills with the understanding the General Assembly is going to do something. Now, I'm being told there's a likelihood nothing will happen," Clarke said.
O'Brien confirmed that yesterday.
Philadelphia gun control "never had the votes to get out of committee, and that hasn't changed," he said.
The lawsuit has been on hold for a different reason: Clarke couldn't find a lawyer willing to take the case.
Council has one now, Clarke said, but he declined to identify the lawyer. Clarke also declined to say whether the new laws would be enforced immediately, explaining that he did not want to compromise the legal strategy.
The bills require Mayor Street's approval, and he seems likely to sign off on them.
"We support Councilman Clarke and Councilwoman Reed Miller in their legislative efforts to reduce and prevent gun violence in Philadelphia," Street spokesman Joe Grace said, adding that the mayor would "look closely" at the bills.
Also yesterday, Street vetoed a zoning bill that would have forced the Foxwoods casino to receive a variance from the Zoning Board of Adjustment before construction could begin. The bill's sponsor, Councilman Frank DiCicco, had described it as another "roadblock" he was attempting to put in the casino's path. He said he would call for an override of the veto at the next Council session.
And by a 16-1 vote, with Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell the dissenter, Council passed a bill requiring district Council candidates to have lived in their districts for at least one year before they could be elected to represent the district. Because the bill requires a charter change, voters would have to first approve it during the November election.