Following an increase in gun violence in the city, Philadelphia filed a lawsuit against the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania in order to create stronger gun control laws. The number of victims this year has increased by 47% from 2019, with more than 1,600 people injured by gunfire so far this year.
The lawsuit, filed Oct. 7, has multiple petitioners, including Mayor Jim Kenney, several gun control advocacy groups, and individuals from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh who have been directly impacted by gun violence. They are asking the state invalidate regulations under the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, so municipalities within the state can pass their own regulations to curb gun violence.
While most Penn professors and student leaders recognized the need for stricter gun control in the city, some questioned the lawsuit's ultimate effectiveness on the issue. They worry a localized gun control policy would not have a significant impact if not implemented state-wide.
According to the Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act, no individual locality may regulate “the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this commonwealth." This act, which the lawsuit aims to invalidate, prevents individual municipalities from passing their own gun control laws.
Penn Democrats Communication Director and College sophomore Emma Wennberg explained that while the city does need better gun control laws, she does not think invalidating the Uniform Firearms Act will significantly help.
“Cities should have the power to enact their own gun laws, but doing it city by city is definitely not ideal,” she said. “Gun safety measures don't work if you can't buy a gun under certain circumstances in Philly, but you can in the next city or county over, because then you could just bring it into Philly."
The lawsuit claims that the act violates Article 1, Section 1 of the Pennsylvania Constitution because it violates “inherent and indefeasible right to enjoy and defend life and liberty,” making the act unconstitutional.
Adam Garber, the executive director of CeaseFirePA and one of the petitioners of the lawsuit, said that this is an important part of the lawsuit, and differentiates it from a similar lawsuit from 2007 that failed to effect change.
“We're charging the state with violating individual Philadelphians' constitutional right to life and liberty, because they have decided to ignore enacting any sort of gun safety policy in the face of continued violence in our communities, and then have gone one step further and tied the hands of local elected officials from doing their duty to protect their constituents,” he said.
While Garber believes common-sense gun safety policy is helpful, Criminology and Statistics professor Greg Ridgeway said that the evidence proving their effectiveness is “spotty.”
He said that evidence has shown that common-sense gun safety policy can be effective at removing guns from domestic violence offenders, but evidence around things like licensing and waiting periods isn’t “game-changing.”
College junior and Policy Director of March For Our Lives Pennsylvania Michael Nevett said that a large reason for municipal stalemate surrounding gun control laws is Pennsylvania leadership's political ties.
“Many in the statewide leadership in Pennsylvania are extremely close with the gun lobby and take immense donations from them. They view the NRA and other blood money gun lobby groups as essential to that,” he said.
Nevett describes "blood money" gun lobby groups as groups that “profit off of the sale of guns and influence the government in ways that only serve to protect its own interest in selling more guns.”
“When cities like Philadelphia and other municipalities across the state try to protect themselves with their own strong gun laws, that goes against the interests of the gun lobby which is only looking to protect itself,” he continued.
Garber agreed with Nevett, adding that he feels some of the elected officials at the capital are prioritizing gun lobbyists over the needs of Pennsylvania citizens.
“We're not talking about you can never purchase a gun, but waiting three days to get your hunting rifle is reasonable," he said. "We're saying that you need to get a permit and be properly trained before you're handed over a weapon that can permanently injure or kill someone. These are things that we should expect in a reasonable society, and will still give access to people to firearms while saving lives."