Crime beat | Nov. 12-19

Dueling gun lawsuits in Philadelphia? Say it ain't so...

Barrage of bullets
With crime as rampant as it is in Philadelphia right now is the Second Amendment more important now than ever before for families living in the City of Brotherly Love? | Image: Jay Rembert

When I was serving in the U.S. Navy many years ago, the first thing another sailor would ask upon meeting you for the first time was, “What state are you from?”

I always said, “Philadelphia.”

One sailor asked me, “Is Philadelphia a state?”

“We think so,” I replied.

This is no doubt how the political leaders of Philadelphia today think.

On Oct. 7, the City of Philadelphia, along with family members harmed by gun violence and a group called CeaseFirePA, filed a lawsuit in state court against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The lawsuit claims that the Pennsylvania General Assembly handcuffs local governments like Philadelphia and does not allow them to enact or enforce their own gun control policies.

Excuse me, the politically progressive phrase has been changed to “gun safety,” rather than “gun control,” as gun control sounds, well, too controlling. It appears that the leaders of Philadelphia are alarmed at the 45 percent increase in gun sales this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That gun violence is caused overwhelmingly by criminals using illegally purchased firearms rather than legitimate gun owners is an inconvenient fact. 

According to the press release issued by the City of Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania General Assembly’s actions stoked the gun violence epidemic in Philadelphia and elsewhere across Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia, shooting incidents are up 57 percent over 2019, and the number of shooting victims is up 47 percent. The number of shooting victims under 18 is up 71 percent.

“A right delayed is a right denied, is the view of the plaintiffs. With the rioting, looting and general lawlessness in the city, many Philadelphians believe they need to protect themselves, their families and businesses with a gun.” 

“The lawsuit takes direct aim at the Firearm Preemption Laws in Pennsylvania, which prevent cities like Philadelphia or any other municipality from enacting their own common-sense local gun laws that have been demonstrated to save lives,” the press release states. “By enacting and continuing to ratify the Firearm Preemption Laws, the General Assembly has increased gun violence in these municipalities, and they have affirmatively endangered the lives, health and safety of the Individual Petitioners, in creating and perpetuating this danger of their own making.”

Mayor Jim Kenney added, “This action today sends a clear message – we are fed up with the Commonwealth’s continued insistence on handcuffing local governments. Two years ago, we declared gun violence a public health emergency and our City agencies have implemented proven approaches to reduce gun violence. But until state lawmakers stop blocking local governments from enacting and enforcing common sense gun laws, our fight for violence reduction and meaningful gun reform will not end. This lawsuit is a big step in that direction.”

Last year, Philadelphia City Council passed a law that prohibits guns and other deadly weapons from playgrounds and recreation centers. The mayor approved the law, but the legislation was blocked by the General Assembly. 

Another lawsuit involving guns was filed against the City of Philadelphia by the Gun Owners of America (GOA) and 10 residents of Philadelphia for excessive delays in license to carry firearms (LTCF) processing.

“The Philadelphia Police Department is not accepting LTCF applications in a timely manner,” said Dr. Val Finnell, Pennsylvania Director for Gun Owners of America, an organization out of Virginia. “At least two of our plaintiffs have received initial appointments for January of 2022 and that’s unacceptable.”

“It appears that the leaders of Philadelphia are alarmed at the 45 percent increase in gun sales this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That gun violence is caused overwhelmingly by criminals using illegally purchased firearms rather than legitimate gun owners is an inconvenient fact.”

Andrew Austin, an attorney for the plaintiffs, added, “The law gives them 45 days to issue a LTCF, but residents are waiting more than a year for an appointment just to turn in their application. It’s a standardized form made by the Pennsylvania State Police that some counties in Pennsylvania are accepting by email. There is absolutely no justification for this.”

As GOA notes, in Philadelphia, one cannot carry a gun openly or concealed without an LTCF. With the excessive delays in LTCF processing, new gun owners, or those with an expiring permit, cannot legally defend themselves when leaving their homes.

According to the lawsuit, one plaintiff contacted the Philadelphia Police Department Gun Permit Unit on or about Aug. 18, 2020, after repeated attempts over roughly two hours. The plaintiff was scheduled for the earliest available appointment to make his application, on June 22, 2021. Another plaintiff whose gun license to carry firearms expired, attempted to call the Gun Permit Unit for an appointment after multiple attempts without success and he has not been able to schedule an appointment to make his application. Other plaintiffs cite similar issues of appointments months ahead or not being able to get through to the Gun Permit Unit at all.

A right delayed is a right denied, is the view of the plaintiffs. With the rioting, looting and general lawlessness in the city, many Philadelphians believe they need to protect themselves, their families and businesses with a gun. 

Paul Davis’ Crime Beat column appears here each week. He is a Philadelphia writer who has written extensively about organized crime, cybercrime, street crime, white-collar crime, crime fiction, crime prevention, espionage and terrorism. 

  • Having worked as a crime reporter and columnist in Philadelphia for many years, Paul Davis has been on the scene shortly after a number of murders were committed, from robbery-related murders to juvenile gang killings, to mob hits in South Philly. He’s interviewed homicide detectives at the Roundhouse and observed homicide detectives as they investigated […]