Philly mayor claims its easier to buy a gun than it is to buy booze

AP Photo/Eric Risberg

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is always quick with an anti-gun quote for the press, even if he’s short on strategies to actually reduce Philadelphia’s violent crime crisis. The city saw a second straight years of 500+ homicides in 2022, and while homicides are currently down about 14% from where they were last year, historically the most violent months of the year will arrive with the warmer weather of late spring and early summer.

In Kenney’s view, the only way to address Philly’s violence is to crack down on the right of responsible citizens to keep and bear arms; an argument he trotted out once again in response to the murder of Temple University police officer Christopher Fitzgerald, who was allegedly shot and killed by an 18-year-old this past weekend. Police haven’t recovered the handgun allegedly used in the killing, so we don’t know anything about it or how it allegedly ended up in the hands of suspect Miles Pfeffer, but the mayor of Philadelphia apparently doesn’t need to wait for those not-so-small details to begin bloviating about how Fitzgerald’s cold-blooded murder could have been prevented with a few “common sense” restrictions on legal gun owners.

Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney said that as he sought to buy Prosecco from a suburban Wegmans this weekend, he watched an elderly man jump through hoops to buy eight bottles of wine — restrictions the mayor said the state legislature has been unwilling to place on the sale of firearms.

“If we control guns like we control the sale of liquor and wine, we’d be in much better shape than we are now,” Kenney said. “It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous.”

The anecdote described by Kenney was among the most colorful ways the Democratic mayor has found to slam the state legislature and the federal government for what he has repeatedly said is a failure to limit access to guns.

I’m confused. Did the elderly man have to submit to a background check before he could walk out the store with his eight bottles of wine? Did he have to attest under threat of federal felony charges that he’s not an alcoholic or abuser of drugs? Could his purchase have been delayed for up to 72 hours if his background check came back as “delayed” instead of “approved”? Kenney’s anecdote may have been colorful, but it’s also completely false.

I have a feeling that Kenney was referring to the fact that private transfers of firearms can be done in Pennsylvania without a background check, something the mayor vociferously opposes. But the same “loophole” applies to intoxicating beverages too. That elderly man had to show ID and make separate purchases because of the amount of wine he was buying (a weird law, to be sure) but he didn’t have to demand his party guests or family members prove they’re 21-years-old before he can pour them a drink. Would Kenney support “universal” ID checks for all liquor consumption in the state? Actually, I probably shouldn’t even suggest that, because it’s true that Pennsylvania has several odd liquor laws on the books, so there’s always the possibility of lawmakers adding one more.

The reason why they’re there in the first place is because a pro-Prohibitionist governor back in the 1930s designed the system to “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.” I doubt Kenney realizes this, but his own anti-gun policy prescriptions are based on that exact same philosophy; discouraging gun ownership by making it as inconvenient, expensive, and as illegal as possible. Oh sure, Kenney may hope that his gun control proposals would reduce crime, but their primary intent is to reduce the number of gun owners in the state.

In 1983, 50 years after Gov. Gifford Pinchot called the legislature into a special session to keep the state as dry as possible after Prohibition’s repeal, the Philadelphia Inquirer called the state’s liquor laws a “great mistake” and called for their repeal. Forty years later the laws have been somewhat revised, but still retain many of the quirks offered up by Pinchot and groups like the Anti-Saloon League. If you notice, Kenney wasn’t complaining that these liquor control laws are stupid and in need of repeal, even though they required an elderly man to make multiple purchases because you’re only allowed to buy three liters of wine per transaction. No, these are the statutes that should serve as a guide for gun laws in the state according to the mayor.

Gifford Pinchot was wrong to try to impose the power of the state against individuals exercising a constitutionally protected right when he sought to do an end run around the 21st Amendment, and Kenney’s just as mistaken in his own transgressive calls to ignore the Second Amendment. Alcohol abuse and its related ills are real problems, as is violent crime. But in a free society the answer cannot depend on negating our civil liberties in the vain and idealist hope that once a right has been deemed a moral wrong universal virtue will ensue. If Kenney really wants to make a difference, he should quit trying to make gun ownership taboo and instead help to grow the culture of responsible gun ownership in Philadelphia. In that fight, I think the mayor would find plenty of allies in the Second Amendment community.