- Pennsylvania Among 'Terrible 10' Most Regressive Tax States
- February 4 Non-Partisan Training: HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013: HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Republican Governors Opt-In to Medicaid Expansion
- The Reports of Unions' Death Are Greatly Exaggerated
- Ask Allyson Schwartz to run for Governor
- Mind the gap: Opting Out of Medicaid Expansion Leaves Low-income Families Behind
- Jan. 14 Workshop:HOW TO RUN FOR ELECTION BOARD IN 2013; HOW TO RUN FOR COMMITTEEPERSON IN 2014
- Seth Williams on Guns, Jasmine Rivera on School Closures @PFC Meetup Wednesday
- PA Revenue Strong Midway Through Year; Tax Cut Could Have Big Impact
- What to Make of the Fiscal Cliff Deal?
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.