Pa. Towns Repeal Park Gun Bans as Philly Forges Ahead

Philadelphia's proposed gun ban may be illegal

By Vince Lattanzio
|  Tuesday, Apr 2, 2013  |  Updated 4:47 PM EDT
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City's Proposed Gun Ban Could be Illegal

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Carrying a gun onto playgrounds and parks in the city of Philadelphia may soon be illegal.

But as the city moves closer to making that a reality, other Pennsylvania municipalities are repealing similar bans over their legality.

Philadelphia City Council passed an ordinance amendment nearly two weeks ago banning firearms from city-owned or occupied recreation centers and parks. After the 15-2 vote, the bill moved on to Mayor Michael Nutter’s desk, where it awaits his signature or veto.

The ban grew out of an increase in shootings at public spaces. Since 2010, more than 50 shootings have taken place at city parks and recreation centers, according to police records.

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If passed though, the ban may be short-lived. Pennsylvania’s Uniform Firearms Act of 1995 makes it illegal for any county, municipality or township to regulate an individual’s possession of firearms. The law has led other towns to reexamine or repeal firearm bans at parks.

This week, Quakertown, Pa. is expected to repeal its longstanding ban of firearms on public land. Scott McElree, Quakertown Police Chief and Borough Manager, says firearms and other deadly weapons have been restricted on public land for more than six decades.

“It was brought to our attention by a citizen who sent in an email that asked we take a look at this issue,” McElree said. “Council is considering changing it so firearms are taken out of the ordinance.”

Currently, citizens cannot carry firearms in public parks, but can in borough buildings like the town hall. McElree says Quakertown’s Borough Council will vote on repealing the ordinance at a meeting Wednesday night. He expects the repeal to happen because the state law supersedes any borough ordinance.

“It really is whatever the law is,” McElree said. “We need to change it to comply.”

Other gun ban repeals have happened across Pennsylvania in recent years. Bucks County, Pa. officials overturned a gun ban in county-owned parks in 2011. Commissioner Charles Martin at the time said the repeal was made just as an order of compliance.

“We are not stating whether we agree or disagree, we are just complying with the state law,” he said.

Chestnuthill Township in Monroe County passed a resolution to repeal its gun ban in parks in 2012. Lower Saucon Township, Northampton County adjusted its ordinance wording last year to comply with the state law.

McElree says while citizens may eventually be allowed to carry guns in town parks, that doesn’t mean you can use them.

“If council passes this provision, we will not be prohibiting firearms, but that does not mean you can discharge those firearms,” he said.

Back in Philadelphia, Nutter press secretary Mark McDonald says the mayor has until this Thursday, April 4, to sign the bill into law. The administration has supported the ban, but McDonald wouldn’t confirm if the mayor plans to sign the bill.

McDonald says the city’s director of public safety has testified the bill has the potential to enhance safety at the city’s 361 parks and recreation facilities. He says the city is aware of the state law, but feels it doesn’t apply to this ordinance change.

“We view the current bill as not regulating firearms, but rather setting rules for our own facilities of which we are the proprietor,” McDonald said.

Asked about the legality of the potential ban, the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s office offered no comment.

As the deadline for Mayor Nutter’s signature looms, gun-advocate groups have been quiet on the proposed legislation. Multiple requests for comment from the National Rifle Association and the Pennsylvania Firearm Owners Association went unanswered.

If enacted, those caught carrying firearms in public parks and recreation centers could face up to a $2,000 fine. 


Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

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