The legal action comes as local lawmakers struggle to combat rising violence, with homicides hitting a decade-long high.
💌 Love Philly? Sign up for the free Billy Penn email newsletter to get everything you need to know about Philadelphia, every day.
The City of Philadelphia is suing Pennsylvania so it can enact stronger gun safety laws and curb the epidemic of violence roiling the city, officials will announce today.
Joined as plaintiffs in the lawsuit by residents across the commonwealth who’ve been impacted by gun violence, the city will argue that state law “handcuffs” them from implementing policies “that have repeatedly been shown to be effective in saving lives,” according to a joint statement from Mayor Jim Kenney and leaders in Philly City Council.
Germantown’s Happy Hollow Recreation Center, the oldest in the city, was chosen as the location for Wednesday afternoon’s announcement “due to historical rates of gun violence in the area,” said Patricia Gillett, spokesperson for Council President Darrell Clarke.
The suit comes as Philadelphia reached a dark milestone of at least 364 murders this year so far, surpassing the number of victims for all of 2019. The city is on track to record more homicides than any year in more than a decade.
Local lawmakers say their hands are tied by state preemption laws, wherein state law usurps city ordinance and forbids municipal government from enacting stricter gun control measures.
Last year, for example, Clarke and Councilmember Cindy Bass introduced a bill that would prohibit guns from certain sites, including playgrounds and rec centers, spurred by two consecutive shooting incidents at or near rec centers that summer. The day after state and local legislators gathered at a North Philly rec center to announce the initiative, someone was shot there.
Lawmakers in Harrisburg pushed a companion bill that would support Philly’s anti-gun violence proposal at the state level. It remains stalled in the Republican-controlled General Assembly.
Suing the commonwealth is a dramatic measure, albeit one that’s been tried before.
Led by Clarke, the city sued Pennsylvania in 2007 for failure to act on gun safety legislation. There were 291 homicides in Philadelphia that year.
The suit was eventually dismissed by Pa. Commonwealth Court. While saying they understood “the terrible problems gun violence poses,” a panel of judges ruled 4 to 1 that the city could not institute its own gun control measures because of existing preemption “imposed by the legislature.”
The city began mobilizing resources to sue the state again this January.
Council then passed a provision allowing the city to hire a robust legal team. In the action announced today, attorneys from the Philadelphia Law Department, the Public Interest Law Center and Hogan Lovells will represent the city.