Hearing on Philly’s lost and stolen gun ordinance will continue in April, judge says

(Image via The Pittsburgh Current/Adobe Stock)

By John N. Mitchell

PHILADELPHIA — A Common Pleas judge is expected to continue next month a hearing over the enforcement of a city ordinance that requires gun owners to report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours.

A city resident is seeking an injunction to block enforcement of the ordinance, while two individuals and three anti-violence organizations are trying to intervene and block the injunction.

Judge Edward Wright allowed anti-violence advocates to join as third parties in the suit. All five will be allowed to testify when the case resumes. The next hearing is currently scheduled for April 22.

“The ordinance has been on the books since 2009. They have consistently said through the District Attorney’s office that they cannot enforce the ordinance because it violates state preemption,” said Joshua Prince, attorney for Rashad T. Armstrong, the man seeking the injunction.

“Now, all of a sudden, the city has decided to prosecute Mr. Armstrong for a violation of this ordinance,” Prince continued. “It is an illegal ordinance.”

The ordinance, which imposes fines and penalties of up to $2,000 per violation, was passed in 2008. Then-District Attorney Lyn Abraham said at the time she would not enforce it because she believed it violated state law. Municipalities in Pennsylvania are not legally allowed to make gun laws more stringent than state laws.

In November, Armstrong became the first person the city sued under the ordinance.

Police allege Armstrong knew his gun had been lost or stolen in April 2018, but did not report it. The gun was found in the possession of a Lancaster man during a traffic stop a month later. Prince said the allegations against Armstrong “are false.”

Armstrong filed his motion for a permanent injunction in December.

In mid-January, the two individuals and three anti-violence organizations filed a joint petition to block the injunction. The parties are CeaseFirePA; the Philadelphia Anti-Drug/Anti-Violence Network; and Mothers in Charge; and Kimberly Burrell, of Philadelphia, and Freda Hall, of Lancaster, mothers who lost their sons in shootings by guns that were not purchased by the shooters.

Deputy Managing Director for Criminal Justice Vanessa Garrett Harley, tapped by Mayor Jim Kenney to head up Philadelphia’s Office of Criminal Justice two years ago, testified for the city on Thursday and highlighted the importance of notifying authorities as soon as a firearm goes missing.

“The sooner a gun that is lost or stolen is reported as such, the sooner an investigation into its whereabouts can commence to make sure it is recovered before it can be used to cause harm to somebody else,” Garrett Harley said.

John N. Mitchell is a reporter and columnist for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.