By Michael D’Onofrio
PHILADELPHIA — City Council will attempt to use a new strategy to force state officials to enact gun regulations or allow Philadelphia to put in place its own.
After a violent start of the year resulted in 32 homicides, the newly convened 17-member council passed a resolution on Thursday to hire legal counsel to file a lawsuit against the state government to compel Pennsylvania officials to address gun violence as a public health crisis and protect citizens by enacting gun laws or allowing municipalities to do so.
Council President Darrell Clarke, among the main sponsors of the resolution, said there was no cap to city spending on the lawsuit and provided no timeline for its filing. He expected mayors and municipal officials across the state to join Philadelphia as plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
“Somebody has to stop this carnage on the city of Philadelphia,” Clarke said inside the City Council Chambers.
“It is out of control. In a lot of neighborhoods that I represent, people are afraid … to go out of their houses; people are afraid to send their kids to the store. At some point, it has to stop.”
The homicide rate was up 68 percent as of Wednesday compared to the same period in 2019, according to the Philadelphia Police Department’s website.
Black men accounted for 72 of the 90 shooting victims as of Tuesday, according to The Philadelphia Shooting Victims Dashboard. The total shooting victims were up 32 percent compared to this time last year.
City Council has enacted a handful of gun regulations over the decades, including a pair last year, but they remain unenforceable or in legal limbo due to the state’s “preemption” law that prohibits local governments from regulating firearms. The General Assembly must sign off on all gun laws.
The GOP-controlled House of Representatives and Senate in Harrisburg have opposed all gun-control efforts in recent years.
Clarke says the lawsuit is Philadelphia’s best chance at getting gun regulation passed in the state, but he was unaware of any successful precedents for the approach.
“I have given up any hope that the General Assembly will give us some relief with simple legislation, reasonable legislation,” the council president said.
Clarke remained elusive about the ultimate goal of lawsuit. He evaded questions about whether Philadelphia would impose the gun regulations currently on its books or enact new ones if a lawsuit were successful.
“The goal is to allow us to have the opportunity to protect our citizens,” Clarke said. “What ultimately that will be in terms of the specific legislation, I’m not clear.”
Clarke was the main sponsor of the legislation, which was also introduced by Councilmen Kenyatta Johnson and Curtis Jones. Clarke garnered council members Derek Green, Cherelle Parker and Allan Domb as co-sponsors.
Councilwoman Katherine Gilmore Richardson, new to the chamber this year, said the city was experiencing a public safety and gun violence crisis.
Richardson said her cousin was recently shot and killed in an attempted robbery on the front steps of his home last weekend, marking the 25th homicide of the year.
“We are in a state of emergency in the city of Philadelphia regarding gun violence,” she said, “and we need to declare one.”
Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.