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Philadelphia mayor issues ban on guns at city parks, pools

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order Tuesday banning guns and deadly weapons from the city's indoor and outdoor recreation spaces including parks, basketball courts and pools.

The order is the latest attempt by Philadelphia officials to regulate guns inside city limits, something made difficult by Pennsylvania's preemption law that bars municipalities from enacting or enforcing their own stricter gun regulations. Attorneys for the city said the executive order is the city managing its facilities as a property owner, making it different than previous legislation passed by city council and struck down in court.

The ceremonial signing also comes the day after Kenney spoke at the funeral for Tiffany Fletcher, a 41-year-old mother of three, who was struck and killed by crossfire earlier this month outside of the city recreation center where she worked. A 14-year-old, who was firing at another group of teens, has since been charged in Fletcher's shooting death.

“I watched (parks and recreation workers) yesterday line up on Lehigh Avenue like police officers burying one of their own. ... I saw what I usually see when a police officer or firefighter dies in the line of duty. They were all out there lined up like they were on the front line, and they are," Kenney said, fighting back his emotions.

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“If this gives them some protection, some peace of mind, some ability to call the authorities when some knucklehead decides they want to bring a gun into a rec center and they see it. That is part of what this is about."

The executive order says parks workers can call police if they think someone attempting to enter one of the sites is carrying a firearm. Police can then ask that person to leave and charge them with a trespassing crime if they refuse.

Joshua Prince, an attorney who has represented people challenging other local gun ordinances across the state, said he doesn't think it makes a difference if the restriction is passed as an ordinance or issued as an executive order. He said the restriction is still unlawful under state law.

“That (property owner) argument has lost twice in cases I have litigated," Prince said, noting cases in Erie and Lower Merion Township in Pennsylvania. “I think it needs to be said in discussing the death of an innocent bystander, that the current felonies on the books did not dissuade that criminal from taking that life. How is a summary offense (trespassing) going to dissuade a criminal when a felony charge does not?"

Pennsylvania's preemption statute — which says no local government can regulate lawful ownership, transportation or transfer of firearms that is not specifically prohibited by state law — is one of many such laws that have been passed across the country. According to the gun-control advocacy group Everytown for Gun Safety, more than 40 states have passed some form of a preemption law.

Many of the places attempting to pass local firearm regulations are cities experiencing surges in gun violence and homicides. Kenney said during the news conference Tuesday that Philadelphia had recorded its 400th homicide this year — putting it on track with last year’s 562 homicides, the largest number in decades.

Philadelphia officials sued the state and the General Assembly in 2020 over the inability to enact local regulations. That lawsuit is still pending.

A handful of other firearm regulation attempts over the years by Philadelphia officials have been struck down when challenged in court, including a ban on sales of assault-style weapons in the city, a limit on the number of guns a person can purchase and an ordinance passed by Philadelphia City Council similarly banning guns from parks and recreation facilities.

Andrew Richman, an attorney with the city's Law Department, said the executive order is different than the Council's attempt at regulating guns at recreation facilities.

“It's different than the 2018 ordinance. It's a management and operational directive that pertains to city-owned recreational centers,” Richman said. “As the property owner of the city's recreational centers, we believe that the city has the authority to limit guns on our own property.”

When asked if he thought the executive order would still face the same legal challenges, Kenney said he expected one, “but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be trying.”