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Mayor Kenney's executive order on firearms ban from recreational centers was blocked.
Mayor Kenney's executive order on firearms ban from recreational centers was blocked. Photo: Alan Nuñez/AL DÍA News.

Mayor Jim Kenney’s executive order blocked by Philly judge, what’s next?

The Gun Owners of America filed a lawsuit against Kenney’s order on behalf of residents.

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On Monday, Oct. 3, Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Joshua H. Roberts blocked Philly Mayor Jim Kenney’s executive order that banned firearms at recreation centers. It comes after the Gun Owners of America filed a lawsuit on behalf of residents against the Mayor’s orders the day after Kenney signed the order. 

Roberts said in his ruling Monday that his decision to block the order was based “purely on legal questions.” He then went on to quote two opinions from former Supreme Court Justice Russell Nigro and Commonwealth Court President Judge Emerita Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter from a 1996 State Supreme Court decision and suggests it needs to be revisited for today’s time. 

Roberts said that he “shared, echoes, and amplifies the sentiments” of Nigro and Leadbetter. 

In the 1996 dissent of Ortiz v. Commonwealth, which was a case on whether Philadelphia and Pittsburgh are able to regulate the ownership of assault weapons, Leadbetter said that as a result of the “overwhelming blight of gun violence, local conditions may well justify more severe restrictions that are necessary statewide.” 

Nigro said that when a child is unable to leave his or her home without the risk of being caught in the crosshairs of a shoot out, “we are denying him the most fundamental right, that of life and liberty, and so I would urge our Supreme Court to reconsider the breadth of the Ortiz doctrine and allow local restrictions narrowly tailored to local necessities.” 

Kevin Lessard, a spokesman for the mayor, said the office was “disappointed by the outcome” and are “reviewing” the decision.

“The mayor’s executive order was intended to prevent the senseless violence that is interfering with the safety of children, families and staff in what must be safe places,” Lessard said. 

On Monday, Sept. 26, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order banning firearms and other deadly weapons from city recreational facilities centers, including courts, fields, playgrounds, and pools.

The order came after the death of a Parks and Rec employee, Tiffany Fletcher, who was killed on Friday, Sept. 9, by a stray bullet fired during a nearby dispute. A 14-year old has been charged with her murder. Nearly 300 instances of gun violence have been reported on city recreation sites since 2019. The rise of gun violence in the city also played a role as the Mayor has faced scrutiny and pressure over his handling of the situation. 

The Gun Owners of America (GOA) suit was filed last Tuesday and arguments were heard by Judge Roberts on Friday, Sept. 30, when Roberts issued his final ruling on the matter and sided with the GOA. With his ruling, it orders Philadelphia to be “permanently enjoined” from actually being able to enforce Kenney’s order. 

According to the lawsuit, it cites Pennsylvania state law that bars any PA city or county from passing gun control laws. Titled, The Preemption Law, is one that Philly has tried to overturn in past times. The law bans local governments from passing such gun measures that turn out to be stricter than the actual state gun laws. 

“For my part, I am gratified that the Court of Common Pleas was able to so quickly resolve this suit, but that was in large part because the law is so explicit: The City is not allowed to regulate possession of firearms in any manner,” said Attorney Andrew B. Austin, who represented the GOA in the case.  

The Pennsylvania Director of GOA, Val W. Finnell, called Kenney’s order “posturing” because of the city’s unsuccessfulness in relation to challenging the preemption law. 

In relation to the Preemption Law that the PA Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that the state legislature had the power to preempt gun control laws in the state. The city has since tried numerous times to challenge it. 

This past February, the state also went against a city law that would have required gun owners to tell law enforcement when any firearm was stolen or lost in hopes of being able to track the firearms in the city and potentially be able to remove them from the street. The city appealed it and is now being held up in the higher courts. 

The city is currently in a gun violence crisis that has become endemic. Philly as of Oct. 3, has 409 homicides, most of them from gun violence, and is on pace to break last year's record of 562. 

Kenney and other city officials have pointed to the Preemption Law as being a barricade

in efforts to reduce gun violence. Hours after Kenney signed the bill, a shooting occurred at Roxborough High School after a football scrimmage that killed a 14-year old and injured four others. 

The city is currently reviewing Judge Robert’s decision.

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