Criticizing the state’s gun laws, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney on Wednesday called Pennsylvania a “backward state” and said its Legislature for the most part doesn’t care about its citizens.
Kenney made the comments in response to an NBC10/Telemundo 62 question about his support of stricter gun laws and a shooting that happened at a school in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning.
“We’re not gonna get gun control in Pennsylvania. This is a backward state whose Legislature for the most part doesn’t care about the health and welfare of its citizens,” Kenney said.
Pennsylvania has a Democratic governor in Tom Wolf, but Republicans hold majorities in both the state Senate and House. Wolf has used his veto pen to block looser gun laws advanced by the Republican-controlled Legislature, but he is term-limited, with his final term coming to an end this year.
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NBC10 reached out to a spokesperson for Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman but did not immediately receive a response to questions about Kenney’s criticisms.
Aa spokesperson for House Majority Speaker Bryan Cutler said in an email that “the only thing backward” is Kenney “ignoring” a district attorney with “a history of allowing violent criminals back onto the streets.” The criticism is a common refrain from Republicans against DA Larry Krasner, one of the country’s most high-profile “progressive prosecutors,” who has defended his office's conviction rates in cases involving homicides and gun offenses.
“Pennsylvania is already home to some of the strictest background checks for firearm purchases in the country, including further checks on private gun sales that are NOT required by the federal government,” Cutler’s spokesperson wrote. “Our laws work to protect all citizens and respect Constitutional rights. What the Mayor needs is a District Attorney willing to enforce those laws.”
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The Cutler spokesperson also criticized past police budget cuts by the Philadelphia City Council and said the state House Committee on Restoring Law and Order will release recommendations to address the city’s violent crime, something he said Kenney and other Philadelphia leaders “have failed miserably to do.”
The outgoing mayor has for some time been outspoken about gun control and critical of what he characterizes as Republican inaction on the issue, both at the state and federal level. He has also been blunt when asked about gun violence in the city, and at times seemingly overwhelmed when discussing the growing problem.
In July, he had to apologize after saying he would “be happy” when he is no longer mayor. Those comments came after gunfire during the city’s annual July 4th fireworks show on the Ben Franklin Parkway sent crowds running and left two police officers shot.
Kenney’s latest comments came after a triple shooting on the grounds of an elementary school in the Kensington neighborhood left three young men wounded, including a 17-year-old, shortly before 1 a.m. Wednesday. One of the bullets pierced a school window.
Later in the morning, two men were shot a short distance from another school, which had to briefly be locked down.
Philadelphia Police Department statistics show at least 362 killings this year as of Aug. 30, a 2% rise from the same time in 2021, which ended up being the year with the most homicides since the city first began keeping record in the 1960s.
Most of those killings have come by way of gunfire. The city controller’s office lists at least 332 fatal shootings as of Aug. 30. It also shows at least 1,266 nonfatal shootings.
Due to Pennsylvania’s preemption law, Philadelphia is legally barred from enacting gun control measures that would impose stronger restrictions or penalties on residents than what state law enforces.
The city has unsuccessfully challenged the preemption law in court. Nonetheless, city officials say they see signs that future lawsuits could be successful.
At the federal level, President Joe Biden in June signed a rare bipartisan gun violence bill into law. That bill, passed after a spate of mass shootings – including one that left 19 students and two teachers dead in Uvalde, Texas – toughens background checks for the youngest gun buyers, keeps firearms from more domestic violence offenders and helps states put in place red flag laws that make it easier for authorities to take weapons from people adjudged to be dangerous.
Speaking in Wilks-Barre, Pennsylvania on Tuesday, the president touted the legislation but said that, “We’re not stopping there” while signaling his determination to once again ban assault-style firearms like the AR-15.
Kenney said the president’s words will, “hopefully push both Washington and Harrisburg in the right direction, but I’m not counting on it.”
There are additional resources for people or communities that have endured gun violence in Philadelphia. Further information can be found here.