Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Philly wants to create its own firearm policies to curb gun violence; Pa. Supreme Court to rule soon

Philadelphia City Solicitor Diana Cortes stands at a lectern
Kimberly Paynter
Philadelphia City Solicitor Diana Cortes said the city was confident in their case after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard arguments in Crawford v. Commonwealth which challenges firearms preemption laws that prevent the city from creating their own regulations on Sept. 13.

The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania heard arguments Wednesday from legal counsel representing the city of Philadelphia and residents affected by gun violence about whether cities across the state should be able to pass their own firearms laws.

Justices did not issue a decision to the standing-room-only courtroom, but will do so in writing in the coming weeks.

Plaintiffs argued that the state’s preemption law, which blocks cities from passing local firearms regulations, deprives Philadelphians living under the threat of gun violence of their right to life and liberty.

“I’m open-minded to this idea that there’s an Article 1 right that may be identified — a right to walk out of your house without fear,” said Justice Christing Donohue, in reference to the state constitution. “But what do you call that? I have a problem pulling together the threads.”

WESA Inbox Edition Newsletter

Start your morning with today's news on Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s preemption law has been in place since 1974. State judges have used that statute to strike down Philadelphia’s attempts at local gun regulation including:

  • A ban on firearms at recreation centers and parks
  • A limit on how many handguns someone can purchase per month
  • A requirement that someone report a lost or stolen firearm or face a fine

“When individuals are afraid to leave their home, children are afraid to go to the bus stop out of fear of crossfire… no one wants to believe that someone would ignore that,” said attorney Jasmeet Ahuja, legal counsel for the city.
She says state legislators have failed to take action.

“And that is why we’re before the Supreme Court.”

The city brought the case, Crawford v. Commonwealth, to the state in 2020. The Commonwealth Court dismissed it in 2022. On Wednesday, the plaintiffs appealed to the state Supreme Court in hopes of getting the lower court’s decision repealed and remanded. If that happens, the case heads to trial in Commonwealth Court.

Multiple justices argued that Philadelphia’s desire to make its own gun laws is a policy argument to be discussed with the General Assembly and not a constitutional argument to be made before the Supreme Court.

Though more than 40 states have preemption laws, this is the first time a city has tried to get the statute repealed on a constitutional basis, according to legal experts.

Philadelphia’s homicide toll surpassed 500 in both 2021 and 2022. One of those killed was Nicolas Elizalde, a 14-year-old who died last fall after being shot at a Roxborough High School football game.

His grandmother, Marge LaRue, spoke at the City Hall vigil the day before the Pa. Supreme Court hearing.

“I’ll never see him again,” she said. “He’ll never drive, he didn’t have a first kiss, he won’t vote … [lawmakers] have to act. They work for us. They need to save our children.”

Read more from our partners, WHYY.