Gun violence is at a record high in Philadelphia – Can the City, on its own, do anything to control gun violence?
The recent death of Temple University Police officer, Christopher Fitzgerald, once again brought the issue of gun control to the top of Philadelphia political issues. Philadelphia’s Mayor James Kenney, following the officer’s death, made another request for the Commonwealth’s legislature to take action and pass gun control measure to address the violence. Many have asked why can’t Philadelphia pass its own gun control laws to address the violence which is at a record high in the City. Families are leaving Philadelphia for safer cities, suburbs, better schools, and an overall better quality of life.
Quick Answer – What can Philadelphia do about gun violence?
The short answer is that Philadelphia cannot make its own gun violence law. Philadelphia cannot do anything to change a person’s ability to legally buy a gun. The City, however, through its Police Department can determine who is permitted to obtain a permit to legally carry a handgun (conceal carry) in the city.
Why can’t Philadelphia make its own gun laws? Hasn’t it legalized marijuana?
In Pennsylvania, the Uniform Firearms Act covers all matters related to the possession, sale, transfer, and maintenance of guns and firearms in the Commonwealth. This law specifically states that “no county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful possession or ownership of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components” in the Commonwealth. While Philadelphia City Council may argue that the state law (Title 18, Section 6120) contains a loophole with regards to gun ownership within a home, Pennsylvania is a preemptive state. This means that counties and municipalities like Philadelphia can’t make gun control laws which carry with them criminal penalties. While Philadelphia may expose gun owners to potential civil penalties which could include fines, it can’t create criminal laws without the Pennsylvania legislature and the Governor.
The most common gun and firearm crimes that we see in our criminal defense practice are violations of Title 18, Sections 6105, 6106, 6108, and 6110.2. Section 6108 makes it a crime to carry an unlicensed firearm in the City of Philadelphia but this is a state law that applies to Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Bill which began in City Council and eventually signed by the mayor. It was a Bill that the Pennsylvania legislature (House and Senate) passed and the Governor signed in the law.
What about Philadelphia’s Marijuana Ordinance?
While Philadelphia has passed a Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance, this legislation hasn’t changed Pennsylvania’s law regarding this controlled substance. Philadelphia is just choosing to not enforce Pennsylvania’s law but rather issue civil ordinance violations in these situations. For more information about crimes involving guns and defenses I encourage you to read my new book: What Everyone Should Know about Guns, Drugs, and Defense Lawyers in Pennsylvania.
People often confuse the right to purchase a firearm in Pennsylvania with the right to carry a firearm in Pennsylvania. This is an important distinction because the illegal possession of a gun or firearm in the Commonwealth is, potentially, a felony crime but in some cases is classified as a misdemeanor offense. Pennsylvania, unlike New Jersey, is not overly restrictive when it comes to gun ownership but there are still certain requirements to buy a firearm,, gun or handgun in the Commonwealth.
Who can’t purchase or possess a gun or firearm in Pennsylvania?
In Pennsylvania you are not allowed to own a firearm if you fall into any of the following categories:
- Convicted of a crime of violence (enumerated felony offense)
- Are a fugitive from justice
- Convicted of a controlled substance offense punishable by more than a 2 year sentence (misdemeanor of the 1st degree)
- Have been adjudicated mentally incompetent or involuntarily committed to a mental institution
- Are an illegal alien
- Are subject to a protection from abuse (PFA)
- In addition, if you are convicted of drunk driving (DUI) at least 3 times in a 5 year period you cannot own a firearm.
Any person who falls in the above categories and possesses a firearm in Pennsylvania, violates section 6105 (Title 18 of Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act), and will, in most situations, commit a felony of the 2nd degree offense and a misdemeanor offense if the illegal possession is the result of an active Protection From Abuse Order (PFA.)
The Permit to Carry – What can Philadelphia control when it comes to guns?
While section 6105 governs the illegal possession of a firearm because of a person’s status, Section 6106 pertains to carrying a firearm within the Commonwealth without a license (permit to carry). In Pennsylvania, anyone who is over the age of 21 may apply for a license to carry through a completed application. Following the application, the sheriff’s office or police department (Philadelphia). Under Section 6109 a sheriff or police department may deny a person’s right to carry if there is a “reason to believe that the character and reputation of the individual is such that they would likely act in a matter that is dangerous to public safety”.
It’s important to keep in mind that there is a background check and also an assessment of the person’s good character, which would include an arrest which did not result in a conviction. The license is good for 5 years unless it is sooner revoked for some reason.
Traveling to Other States With Your Pennsylvania Gun
If you’re traveling to a different state, Pennsylvania may have reciprocity with that state regarding a license to carry a firearm. It is very important not to assume reciprocity but to check with the state regarding status. Further, if you are traveling to a state like New Jersey, always travel with the gun unloaded and in a secure lock box with the ammunition separate. Read my article on traveling to New Jersey with a firearm for more information. Pennsylvania does not have reciprocity with New Jersey regarding the permit to carry a gun. It is virtually impossible to obtain a permit to carry in the Garden State.
Medical Marijuana & Your Gun Rights
Recently, I wrote an article regarding medical marijuana and gun rights. Initially Pennsylvania was providing the names of medical marijuana patients to law enforcement agencies. These agencies were using these names, coupled with federal law, to deny a person the right to purchase a firearm in the Commonwealth. This was because the federal government still classifies marijuana as a Schedule I substance and this status prohibits a person from consuming such a substance and possessing a firearm. Even though federal law remains the same, Pennsylvania will no longer provide the names in this database.
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