Philly Going To Court Over Preemption

(Jefferson Police Department via AP)

Preemption laws keep local governments from creating an unnavigable patchwork of gun control laws that do nothing to stop crime but creates plenty of new criminals. After all, someone doesn’t realize that this town doesn’t allow a certain magazine or certain kind of ammunition, and boom! They’re breaking the law.

That’s what preemption prevents.

However, some large cities really hate preemption. They think they’re special and that the rules shouldn’t apply to them.

Now, Philadelphia is going to court to try and put an end to Pennsylvania’s preemption law.

A panel of state judges is now considering whether Philadelphia’s fight to enact its own gun control measures should move forward in Commonwealth Court — or be dismissed.

During a virtual hearing on Wednesday, lawyers for the city argued the state preemption laws that make it illegal for Philadelphia to pass local gun laws should be invalidated because they put lives at risk, particularly in the communities of color most impacted by gun violence.

Attorney Alex Bowerman told the panel those measures are unconstitutional because residents have the legal right to “enjoy and defend life and liberty” under the Pennsylvania constitution.

Preventing cities like Philadelphia from enacting laws aimed at curbing gun violence, including permit-to-purchase regulations and limits on bulk gun buying, infringes on the constitutional right to defend life and liberty, he said.

Especially amid a historic surge in gun violence, which is putting Philadelphia on pace to set a new single-year record for homicides. 

“People are dying at an alarming rate and it’s because of the respondents’ actions in this matter,” said Bowerman during the hourlong hearing.

Philadelphia, like most other large city governments, look at guns as a scapegoat. They can’t deal with the crime in their cities and rather than look at ways to prevent crime from happening, they decide to act like the issue is the legal trade in firearms.

However, when you look at the criminals and examine how they get their guns, it’s not from their neighborhood gun store. It’s from their neighborhood black market gun dealer, which is generally just someone who stole a bunch of guns from a law-abiding citizen.

None of what Philadelphia wants to pass will stop that.

What Bowerman failed to mention to the panel is that the courts have consistently held that the government has no duty to protect individual lives, that their duty to protect society pretty much goes no farther than arresting bad people after the fact so they won’t do bad things again. His claim that preemption “infringes on the constitutional right to defend life and liberty” is awfully bizarre in the face of that.

It’s also bizarre because the Constitution preserves rights for people. It preserves specific powers for government, but not rights. Among those rights is the right to keep and bear arms. Because that right is explicitly protected, I find it interesting that Bowerman could believe anything in the Constitution actually authorizes local governments to trample on rights explicitly protected.

Maybe he skipped school the day they taught that at law school.

Regardless, the argument doesn’t sound particularly compelling from a legal standpoint, which is good. The people of Philadelphia have enough problems right now. The last thing they need is to have their best means of self-defense made inaccessible because local officials don’t want to have to put in the work of actually addressing the real problems plaguing their city.

Unfortunately, Philly officials are far from unique in that regard. This is far, far too normal.

The upside is that Philadelphia is at least trying to go through the correct channels to address preemption. They’re not doing like Pittsburgh did and just pass whatever they want and pretend it’s OK.

What needs to happen, though, is both get slapped down for trying to infringe on people’s Second Amendment rights.