Preemption and Its Discontents: Guns

I think it is useful to look at all the places where the State has taken power from the City to regulate its own laws, especially since many of the efforts have been led by members of the Philadelphia delegation. We talked a little bit about the preemption of lending laws last week.

The first major recent preemption of Philadelphia in the ‘modern age’ was an issue that has only grown in its stature today: the regulation of firearms. In June of 1993, the City of Philadelphia enacted a ban (signed by then Mayor Rendell) on a number of different assault weapons. In December of that same year, Pittsburgh did the same. However, the State, with a then estimated 250,000 NRA members, would soon restrict the ability of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or any other city in the State to enact gun restrictions.

In June of 1994, one year after the assault weapon ban was passed, the State Senate and House voted to prevent local municipalities from regulating guns. Governor Casey vetoed the bill. But, in an effort headlined by a few notable PA legislators, including now-speaker Dennis O’Brien, as well as the all-powerful, and indicted, Vince Fumo, the Legislature overrode Casey’s veto.

In response to the lawsuit, a delegation of Philadelphians, including City Councilmen and labor leaders filed suit against the State, arguing that the law was an encroachment on the City’s home-rule power. In Ortiz v. Commonwealth, the City delegation attempted to argue that the Firearms Act was an unconstitutional encroachment on the power of their home rule charter, and their essential function to regulate public safety. Their argument was rejected by the Court, and the preemption was upheld. That failed challenge set the stage for most of the preemption that the state would bring down on us over the next few years.

Guns and state preemption in has come roaring back into the news this year, with the murder rate in Philadelphia raising enough concerns that special sessions have been called, and the now Governor Rendell has used his bully pulpit to demand one-gun a month handgun laws, and the right for Philadelphia to regulate guns on its own.

Looking back at the ban at assault weapons and the current debate, however, one thing that is clear is that Fumo and the NRA, for all of their over-the-top advocacy, were largely right about one thing: assault weapons, whether we should ban them or not, are not generally what are used in the day-to-day shootings in Philadelphia. In fact, in 1993, the year the Philadelphia ban was passed, a reported four people total were killed with assault weapons. The best evidence that the assault weapons ban itself was a red-herring is that in today’s debate over Pennsylvania guns, a ban on assault weapons is far from the front pages.

Of course, as with the billboard law, the issue is not even the specific action to which the State was reacting, but instead the fact that their actions had much further reaching implications. In other words, it might make sense that an assault weapons ban in Philadelphia would not be effective. However, it is also possible that if municipalities and counties were free to make their own laws, Philadelphia and its neighbors who are less frightened of the NRA “outrage cards” could make laws that actually did so something. In other words, the real problem was not the assault ban itself, but instead the preemption that came with it.

­Quickly, I want to take

­Quickly, I want to take the NRA and preemption out of the equation. We should discuss this point--

If Philadelphia (and Philadelphia alone) were able to ban assault weapons, would it have an effect on the murder rate and the availability of guns on our streets? Or, even better the relative ease our youth seem to have in using firearms to solve their problems?

Yesterday, in my own neighborhood, I saw two men trying to beat up another. When they realized they were actually going to have a harder time doing it then they thought, they walked to their car and retrieved what, to me, looked like a hand gun (I know what a hand gun looks like, it was distance that makes me somewhat non-committal on this issue). At this time, I was already on the phone with the 911 dispatch (I drove by and pulled over to gather information and call the police, I don't tolerate no mess in my neighborhood). When the victim fled, the idiots/criminals/thugs then tried to steal his dog (who the "victim" tied to a poll to enable a defense). They saw me on the phone and left (without the dog). I gave a good description of the persons, car and tag number to the police.

I guess what shocked me was the ease in which a weapon was considered for use. To the extent a violence is ever okay, it was once a disgrace to have to use a weapon in a street fight. Now, it is common place problem solving and dispute resolution. Back then, we would say if you couldn't solve it with your fists, you weren't a "man." Oddly enough, we were just boys at the time and had no idea what being a "man" or an adult was about. But, it sounded good. I long for the days when a bloody nose, a black eye or a knocked out tooth was the result of "disrespecting" someone.

These things being said, the 125 murders in Philadelphia this year (so far) are not the result of the availability of assault weapons in Philadelphia. But, they result directly from the ease of purchasing handguns (from wherever), a culture that is using firearms to solve problems and, yes, poverty.

My fear, unless we address the culture that has a cavalier attitude towards human life and suffering, the assault weapons ban would not help us. I know we all like to beat up on the NRA, but I find these "other" issues are the ones no one wants to talk about.

Your thoughts?

Oh--and before anyone jumps

Oh--and before anyone jumps on me, I was supportive of the ban back then, I support one gun a month now and I am not a member of the NRA. I just find that the "guns" issue has been too long polarized.

Everything. We need to

Everything. We need to address everything.

However, would an assault weapons ban specifically lower Philadelphia's murder rate? I don't think so. (I still think the ban is a good thing, and if nothing else, gives police officers a little more piece of mind.) Would the one gun a month thing, done State wide lower it? I think it could- but, even if it does work, it will take a while to have an effect anyway, because there are so many guns out there right now.

But, what good is the Nutter/Fattah plan to go after illegal guns, or the gun buyback programs, etc, if cheap guns are everywhere? So, we have a real, tough, one gun a month program, we go hard after straw purchasers as the City has started to do (Lynne Abraham's task force is now emulating what she laughed at Seth for talking about during the campaign), and we desperately do whatever we can to lift people out of poverty, and th throw money into programs that actually do work to lower the cycle of gun violence.

I think that, in addition to

I think that, in addition to my strong want to see a mandatory civics class in every school, dispute resolution should be taught in every school--say every grade level for 2-3 weeks a year.

Prohibition Doesn't Work

One thing we've learned is prohibition just doesn't work. Eightyseven percent of all murders are committed by convicted felons. All felons are, by law, prohibited from owning or even possessing a pistol.

By Pennsylvania law, there's a mandatory five year minimum sentance for anyone convicted of a crime while merely possessing a firearm. Unfortunately, that five year minimum sentence is plea bargained away so fast your head would spin.

I understand that people have a right to walk the streets in safety. However, getting rid of guns doesn't have that desired effect. John Lott's book "More Guns, Less Crime" is worth reading. I used to consult in Suitland, MD just outside Anacostia (Washington, DC SE). While South East DC has one of the most restictive set of of gun control laws in the country (last week those laws were overturned). Suitland has virtually no gun control laws, but is substantially safer than Anacostia, even though the economic and racial status is esentially the same. The bad guys prefer to rob unarmed citizens.

When Pennsylvania, went to "shall issue" (that is anyone who wants a permit to carry a concealed hand gun will get the permit unless there's a good reason to not get one - they're a criminal or have insanity). Violent crime went down from 5% for agravated assault to 8% for rapes. Things don't happen in a vacuam, so Burglaries and Auto Thefts went up. The choice is yours.

The reason there's NRA resistance to any kind of registration, is the fear that their firearms might be confiscated (as happened in New Orleans after Katrina). My cousin lost his business to looters following Katrina. Running for your life is a terrible thing.

Keeping young people occupied, along with hope and opportunity will go a long way to cutting down on gun crime. This means they have to get a decent education, along with the promise of a job at the end of the road.


Gun inspections - Like Vehicle Inspections

Like any child of the '80s raised on mass media, my attention has shifted to guns in the wake of 550 or so murders in my city over the last year and 33 people killed in one day at Va Tech. Please forgive me if this policy actually exists or has been suggested by someone elsewhere on the site.

People on both sides of the gun debate agree, most of the people shooting people with guns are likely doing so with illegally acquired guns. Since we all know that people kill people, not guns, we should do all we can to know where all of our guns are.

Some states, including Michigan, have mandatory safety inspections for handguns after purchase. Owners are required to take their guns to the state police within 10 days after purchase to have them tested and registered. Though the NRA doesn't want this practice to continue, as they see it as antiquated, it got me thinking of a way in which we can help get a handle on just who are buying guns for the people who kill people.

Each year, we ask gun owners to take their guns for inspection to an agency within the state police, like we do for car owners. The police check gun serial number and working characteristics give the owner a sticker for the gun and tell them to come back next year. We'll charge a few bucks to cover the costs. If you don't register your gun each year, you get fined and YOU CAN'T BUY ANYMORE GUNS at least legally until you fix the registration on your other gun(s).

While I realize that some in this world need to own or collect dozens or hundreds of guns, which might make this cost prohibitive (or might require someone to take an army-division worth of guns to the state police for registriation creating a weird situation), we could work out a discount for the arsenal owners.

It doesn't seem like a lot to ask. Responsible gun owners have nothing to worry about, aside from a small fee, which is a small price to pay for freedom.

I always liked the idea of

I always liked the idea of making gun ownership similar to car ownership. You buy a gun, you have it registered. You want to sell it, someone has to pay a tax and file something with the state police. You have a certain period of time to do it, otherwise any gun that is traced back to a non-complying original owner equates to stiff civil and criminal fines, etc.

I wrote about it before, let me find the link.

I wrote this before: "There

I wrote this before:

"There are a number of areas where Pennsylvania could toughen its guns laws without infringing upon, for example, an individual’s right to purchase 87 handguns. As a model for my proposed legislation, I looked in part to the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence (where, by the way, Pennsylvania received a D+ for its gun legislation). The below items, some of which are discussed in the Pennsylvania Report Card are the beginnings of sound, appropriate legislation for Pennsylvania.

Regulating "junk" handguns and imposing safety standards. “Saturday Night Specials,” which are cheap handguns—often with no other purpose than crime—could be regulated. One way to do this is to impose consumer safety standards. For example, did you know that while guns are required to have locks, there is nothing to ensure that they actually function. According the Brady Campaign, although the Attorney General is authorized to implement safety standards, he has not elected to do so. Serious consumer protection laws can go along way in eliminating cheap handguns, and therefore, their unfortunate use.

Ensuring that all guns are registered with law enforcement. Cars have to be registered with the Department of Transportation, so why aren't guns and gun owners registered with the State Police—especially hand guns? Without registration, how can the police trace the guns that are used in crimes? Although some would say it’s expensive, it seems to me that the cost would pay for increased safety and vacant prison cells. The Brady Campaign explains that “[t]he lack of registration data makes it more difficult for police to trace guns used in crime, identify illegal gun traffickers or hold gun owners accountable for their weapons. Although the state keeps records on handgun transfers, there is no state system to automatically identify and disarm felons and other prohibited people who bought guns legally in the past, but later committed a crime or otherwise became ineligible to keep possession of their firearms.” My review of the Uniform Firearms Act confirms this analysis. The registration of handguns is vital. But, giving the police the tools to disarm criminals is one major step in the right direction.

Impose strict civil and criminal liability for secondary sellers. Secondary sellers—not gun shop owners, but straw purchasers—should incur strict penalties for failing to register their sale at the time of the transaction. A $10,000.00 fine and one year imprisonment for each gun seems harsh, but the law needs some teeth. And any civil judgment or criminal fine assessed against these individuals would become a lien on their homes and possessions. This would ensure registration and compliance.

Although I don’t believe that these few proposals, alone, will stop the culture of violence and poverty that grips so many, they are a beginning. Most importantly, we have to create and provide opportunities for, and increase the expectations of, our youth. In the interim, however, we do need to make sure they stop getting killed by handgun violence."

I think it can be even

I think it can be even simpler without bothering legal owners.

If your gun is lost or stolen, you are required to notify the police and state within 24 hours. If a gun purchased by you is used in a crime and you didn't report the transfer or loss of it, SEVERE fines and jail time.

If you lose more than 1 gun a year, your purchasing ability is suspended until an investigation.

It will encourage legal owners to keep their weapons locked up, so that way even if their house is broken into, they won't lose the weapon. It also puts the straw sellers at extreme liability.

"It's your gun and your right ... and YOUR responsibility."

Make sure this is prominently posted in every gun shop. Make buyers sign a form that they read it. 5 years in jail may not be worth buying a gun to hand to your boyfriend who is an ex-con.

I really think there is more that can be done to crack down on the illegal market.

Also, as we all know, it comes down to enforcement.


Staff member of Longacre for 5th Council District.
Longacre Website

Bothering legal gun

Bothering legal gun owners?

When I purchased my gun, I had to fill out an application for an NCIS background check. I paid all the appicable taxes, etc., related to the purchase.

Now, imagine if I had to just fill out another "registration form" and pay a "registration fee." Related to my almost $1,000.00 purchase, it would be negligible. Related to the time I spend selecting my fire arm, talking to the salesperson, pondering it, and doing all of the above, the additional work is neglibible.

It would not be a bother.

My point is, "bothering"

My point is, "bothering" legal owners without first seeing overwhelming efforts against the illegal owners is not exactly "fair".

I am not about coddling gun owners, but I think it isn't the best route to go when we know there are a lot of straw sellers out there punishable by current legislation that aren't being prosecuted.

What is wrong with a sign of good faith first?

How does doing registrations prevent that lady walking in and buying a gun for her boyfriend? He his going to get his hands on it before her yearly inspection.

Staff member of Longacre for 5th Council District.
Longacre Website


I'm not criticizing you Adam, but your post is indicative of the way people coddle law-abiding gun owners. They have a "God-given" right to own guns, no one is going to take that away from them ("God-given" taken from Ted Nugent's missive on the other day). However, that right can be regulated. Unfortunately, anytime people talk about regulating that right, the gun-owners point out their persecution. Rather than challenge that so-called persecution, those who want sensible gun laws tiptoe around and talk of ways to leave responsible gun-owners alone.

Is requiring people to register items that are made specifically to kill people and to some extent other living things, bothering them? Can we at least acknowledge that these guns are weapons and not some sort of toy? Christ, you have to register a dog in this city each year.

I know we know this

and it's the obvious backdrop, but just to keep it grounded in people and bodies: ten dead over this weekend.

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