28 April 2008

Philly Gun Ban Court Hearing Delayed

After a conference call with attorneys for the city of Philadelphia, and attorneys for the National Rifle Association, a judge has delayed a scheduled court hearing on Philly's questionable (in their legality) new gun laws until May 19.

C. Scott Shields, the Media lawyer who filed the suit for the Fairfax, Va.-based NRA, said the delay was to give lawyers for the city more time to decide if they will challenge "standing" - the legal right of the NRA to file the suit. In addition to the NRA, the lawsuit's plaintiffs include the National Shooting Sports Foundation; the Pennsylvania Association of Firearms Retailers; Colosimo's and Firing Line Inc., two city gun shops; and several individuals.

At an April 17 hearing at which Greenspan granted an order temporarily blocking enforcement of the gun-control laws, the judge said she had misgivings about the organizations' standing to sue. Generally, organizations cannot file a constitutional challenge without showing how their members are directly harmed by the law in question. At that hearing, Shields argued that the two city gun dealers and the individuals would all be harmed if the gun laws were enforced.

Moreover, the city of Philadelphia is hoping that this challenge will convince the state Supreme Court to reexamine its 1996 decision in Ortiz v. Commonwealth. That case invalidated a city ordinance regulating assault weapons, with the state's high court ruling that the state legislature in 1994 passed a law that specifically barred municipalities from regulating guns. Because of the Ortiz ruling, District Attorney Lynne Abraham said she cannot legally enforce the new gun laws.

Here are the five ordinances passed, and some questions:

- Permit authorities to seek a judge's order to take guns from people proven to be a risk to themselves or others. Based on what standards?
- Ban from gun ownership those who are subject to a protection from abuse order. A permanent ban?
- Give gun owners 24 hours to report to police after discovering the loss or theft of their gun. So the city plans to retrieve guns for owners? Sort of like a Cold Case squad? Making wrongs right?
- Ban possession or sale of assault or contraband firearms in the city. What if the only means of protection you have in your home is your competition rifle? And what exactly is a "contraband" firearm?
- Limit gun purchases to one a month and require buyers to get a police certification they have not bought another gun in the last month. Like rationing rice purchases? A police certification? How will that work? Will the police come take inventory of your safe?

The laws were passed, in open violation of state law. In essence, Philadelphia officials thumbed its nose at the rule of law. Normally, there are consequences for violating the law, but everyone knows there won't be in this case.

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