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Judge bars Philadelphia from enforcing Mayor Jim Kenney's ban on guns at rec centers and playgrounds

Robert Moran, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

PHILADELPHIA — A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court judge on Monday blocked the city from enforcing an executive order Mayor Jim Kenney signed last week banning guns at recreation centers and playgrounds following the fatal shooting of a Parks and Recreation employee last month.

The Gun Owners of America, on behalf of several state residents, filed a lawsuit last Tuesday, the same day Kenney signed his order. After hearing arguments Friday, Judge Joshua H. Roberts issued his ruling siding with the plaintiffs and ordering Philadelphia to be “permanently enjoined” from enforcing Kenney’s ban.

The lawsuit cited Pennsylvania state law that prohibits any city or county from passing gun control measures. The preemption law, which the city has repeatedly sought to overturn, bans local government from passing gun control measures that are stricter than state gun laws.

Andrew B. Austin, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in an emailed statement: “For my part, I am gratified that the Court of Common Pleas was able to so quickly resolve this suit, but that was in large part because the law is so explicit: The City is not allowed to regulate possession of firearms in any manner.”

Austin added: “It is unfortunate that the mayor and city are willing to waste their time and taxpayer money on these type of ‘feel-good’ measures. This was nothing more than a press release, and would not have — in any way — addressed the crisis of crime in our City.”

Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for Kenney, said in an emailed statement: “We are reviewing today’s decision and are disappointed by the outcome, which as it stands prevents city employees from making the reasonable request that anyone with a firearm or deadly weapon leave a recreation facility. Since 2019, nearly 300 reported incidents of gun violence have occurred at city recreation facilities, in addition to dozens of other incidents of violence with a deadly weapon.”

 

Lessard continued: “The mayor’s executive order was intended to prevent the senseless violence that is interfering with the safety of children, families and staff in what must be safe places.”

In 1996, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state Legislature has the authority to preempt local gun control laws. That has not stopped Philadelphia from repeatedly challenging the law as the city faces a surge in gun violence. Kenney and other officials have often pointed to the state preemption law as a roadblock to reducing gun violence — and did so last week, when a 14-year-old boy was killed and four others wounded in a shooting after a high school football scrimmage in Roxborough. That shooting happened hours after Kenney signed the executive order.

In February, Commonwealth Court ruled against a Philadelphia ordinance that required gun owners to tell police when a firearm had been lost or stolen.

Philadelphia appealed that decision and the case is pending before the state’s high court.

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