Pa. court throws out lawsuit over Philly gun laws

Pennsylvania court throws out lawsuit to allow Philadelphia to pass its own tougher gun laws
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Pennsylvania court throws out lawsuit to allow Philadelphia to pass its own tougher gun laws

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) -- Philadelphia officials cannot enact gun laws tougher than Pennsylvania's law, a state appeals court ruled Friday in throwing out city ordinances that included limiting gun purchases to one a month and banning assault weapons.

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Commonwealth Court dismissed a lawsuit against the Legislature filed by two members of Philadelphia's City Council, Darrell L. Clarke and Donna Reed Miller.

The court cited language in several gun ordinances the council passed last year that the measures cannot take effect unless the Legislature were to let municipalities enact stricter laws. That has not happened.

"While we understand the terrible problems gun violence poses for the city and sympathize with its efforts to use its police powers to create a safe environment for its citizens, these practical considerations do not alter the clear pre-emption imposed by the Legislature," President Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter wrote in the court's ruling.

Leadbetter noted that the state Supreme Court previously upheld the state's exclusive right to enact gun laws in a 1996 ruling that overturned Philadelphia's effort to ban assault weapons. A 1974 state law says that only the General Assembly can regulate guns.

George Bochetto, a lawyer for Clarke and Miller, said he expected to appeal to the Supreme Court. Bochetto said he was encouraged that the city would prevail because the Commonwealth Court decision relied on the 1996 case, rather than the court's own reasoning.

Also, the high court has said the city can impose its own rules when it comes to campaign finance, and only one justice who was involved in the 1996 ruling -- Chief Justice Ronald Castille -- remains on the bench, Bochetto said.

"I think it bodes very well for us," Bochetto said.

In a separate opinion, Judge Doris A. Smith-Ribner said she agreed with dismissing the lawsuit, but disagreed with the court's finding that previous court rulings could be interpreted as a "clear ban" against the city's ordinances.

City officials have been pushing for tougher local ordinance in response to Philadelphia's high murder rate and its reputation for being a weapons source for criminals in New York and other states with stricter gun laws.

City Council passed another group of gun-control ordinances this year. The five ordinances passed April 10 and were signed into law by Mayor Michael Nutter. Those ordinances do not require action by the General Assembly in order to take effect.

A city judge blocked two of the ordinances, saying they were almost certainly illegal. Three other laws survived, including one that imposes fines on citizens who fail to report a lost or stolen firearm within 24 hours.

All five of the ordinances are the subject of a legal challenge by the National Rifle Association. That case is pending before Commonwealth Court.
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