Friday, April 11, 2008

Philadelphia Passes Stringent Gun Laws Despite Statutory Prohibitions

Mayor Michael Nutter signed five new gun-related bills into law Thursday, enacting new regulations that contravene standing state laws reserving the power to regulate firearms to the state legislature. The bevy of bills comes after Nutter made promises as a candidate to introduce tough legislation to deal with a rising rate of homicides and other violent crimes, and pledged on the day of his inaugeration to push through major gun law reforms regardless of the opposition. Mayor Nutter likened the actions of the city council and of himself to the signing of the Declaration of Independence (taken from 4/11/08):

"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.

The new laws have raised the ire of both Pennsylvania legislators and private advocacy groups. The NRA has promised to work against the bills in court, and other groups are sure to weigh in as Philadelphia attempts to enforce the laws. Legislators on both sides of the aisle have reacted negatively to the laws:

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."

The city council passed five bills out of the seven that came before the body for a final reading and vote, choosing the bills the council believed best able to survive a legal challenge. The five bills passed are as follows, in no particular order (all taken from

Bill 080017 - "Temporary Removal of Firearms of Persons Posing a Risk of Imminent Personal Injury to Self or Others"

-This bill allows for the confiscation of arms and probition on purchasing and/or possessing firearms by anyone deemed to be at imminent risk of harm to self or others.

Bill 080018-A - "Prohibited Possession, Sale and Transfer of Firearms by Persons Subject to Protection From Abuse Orders"

-This bill allows for the prohibition of possession and sales to individuals who are the subject of a protection from abuse order. Persons subject to such orders have 72 hours in which to sell, surrender or transfer firearms out of their possession. Private individuals receiving firearms must not be related to the subject of the abuse order.

Bill 080032-A - "Failure to Report Lost or Stolen Firearm"

-This bill requires police notification of a stolen weapon within twenty-four hours after a weapon is discovered to be missing. After the time limit, a fine is levied. The bill also states that a person who violates the statute again is automatically guilty of a repeat offense, even if a judicial finding hasn't been issued in the first or any previous case.

Bill 080035-A - "Straw and Multiple Handgun Purchase Reduction"

-This bill sets a limit of one handgun purchase during any thirty-day period, and requires a buyer to both obtain an eligibility report from the police before buying a handgun and send a purchase report to the police once the transaction has cleared. Anyone who attempts to purchase a handgun before the thirty-day limit from a previous purchase has expired is assumed by default to be trafficking in handguns.

Bill 080033 - "Contraband Weapons, Accessories and Ammunition"

-This bill prohibits the possession of assault weapons within city limits, defining an assault weapon as any of the following:

1) Any rifle or semi-automatic pistol that accepts a detachable magazine and has any of the following: a telescoping/folding stock for rifles or any shoulder stock for pistols, a muzzle brake or compensator, a barrel shroud and any pistol grip or thumbhole stock.
2) Any pistol that accepts a detachable magazine outside of the pistol grip.
3) Any centerfire rifle with an internal magazine holding more than ten rounds.
4) Any shotgun that accepts a detachable magazine or rotating cylinder.
5) Any combination of conversion kit parts that would place a weapon in any of the above categories.

The bill also prohibits any magazine with a capacity greater than sixteen rounds, defining any larger magazine as a large-capacity feeding device. From the effective date of the law, citizens possessing an assault weapon or prohibited device have thirty days to dispose of their contraband items in one of three ways:

1) Remove the weapon or device from the jurisdiction.
2) Permanently modify or deactivate the weapon or device in question.
3) Surrender any offending weapon or device to the police.

With the exception of the law regarding people judged at risk of imminent harm to either themselves or to others, these laws greatly infringe upon the rights of normal citizens to keep and bear arms for their own defense, as allowed by state regulations and as protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution. The assault weapon prohibition alone constitutes an alarming threat to legitimate gun owners in the Philadelphia city limits, as almost any rifle with a detachable magazine will fail to meet the standard for legal ownership and sets up gun owners for a program of firearm confiscation. Even the federal ban didn't go as far as the Philadelphia ban, as older weapons were at least grandfathered into legality. The limit on handgun purchases also questions the right of legitimate citizens to obtain arms with with to defend themselves, with the state assuming that any citizen who wishes to purchase more than one handgun in a month, for any reason, is a de facto gun trafficker. The city has also imposed an incredibly short period for the victims of theft to report a lost firearm, with a limit of twenty-four hours allowing little time to avoid fines and/or criminal sanctions. The prohibition on firearm possession for the subjects of protection orders also sets a rather dangerous precedent for removing the right to bear arms without a trial.

These laws represent the intent of the Philadelphia government to completely remove any right of citizens to keep and bear arms in their own defense, even in the face of constitutional protections at both the state and federal level.

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