2009-06-25 / Local & State

State Court Again Strikes Down Philly Gun Laws

By Patrick Walters ASSOCIATED PRESS WRITER

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - A state appeals court ruled Wednesday that the city cannot enforce an assault weapons ban and a law prohibiting guns bought by one person and given to another, measures passed by City Council in an effort to combat persistent gun violence.

The 6-1 ruling marked the latest setback for Philadelphia officials, who have fought for years for the right to pass their own gun legislation. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has previously upheld the state's exclusive right to enact gun laws.

The National Rifle Association challenged a series of measures that were passed by City Council in April 2008 and signed by Mayor Michael Nutter. Both sides expect the case to end up before the state's highest court again.

In Thursday's ruling, the Commonwealth Court said the city could not ban assault weapons or pass the law prohibiting straw purchases, in which one person fills out forms and buys a gun for someone else - often convicted felons who can't legally own guns.

In a dissenting opinion, Commonwealth Judge Doris A. Smith-Ribner asserted the city does have the right to pass its own gun laws, citing the hundreds of residents killed by gun violence every year.

The whole court also ruled that the NRA lacked standing in challenges to three other measures, saying the plaintiffs failed to show that they suffered "injury.''

Those three laws require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns within 48 hours; allow police to confiscate guns from people who are considered a danger; and prohibit anyone subject to a protection-from-abuse order from possessing a gun. Only the lost-or-stolen gun ordinance is currently being enforced.

Shields said those laws had already been invalidated by a ruling in a separate lawsuit. But Richard Feder, an attorney for the city, said he disagreed with that assessment; he said the city had not yet had a chance to defend those laws in court.

"The Supreme Court will sort this all out, eventually,'' Feder said.

In September, the Commonwealth Court threw out a separate lawsuit about Philadelphia's ability to pass its own gun laws. That suit, filed by two City Council members, sought to have a court declare that the city could pass its own firearms laws.

A 1974 state law says that only the General Assembly can regulate guns; but the Philadelphia case is being watched by other cities in the state, including several that have passed measures requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns.

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