Philadelphia City Council is moving on a proposal that would make it a crime to keep a gun or firearm in a house without a trigger locking device where there is at least one person under the age of 18. The legislation would further require the gun owner to keep the firearm unloaded and stored in the locked container and the ammunition kept in a separate locked container. As a father of 2 children, I understand City Council’s efforts to keep residents and specifically children safe from guns but this proposal isn’t going to increase the criminal penalty for violations of the Uniform Firearms Act (VUFA) in the city.
In Pennsylvania, the Uniform Firearms Act covers all matters related to the possession, sale, transfer, and maintenance of guns and firearms in the Commonwealth. This law specifically states that “no county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful possession or ownership of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components” in the Commonwealth. While Philadelphia City Council may argue that the state law (Title 18, Section 6120) contains a loophole with regards to gun ownership within a home, Pennsylvania is a preemptive state. This means that counties and municipalities like Philadelphia can’t make gun control laws which carry with them criminal penalties. While Philadelphia may expose gun owners to potential civil penalties which could include fines, it can’t create criminal laws without the Pennsylvania legislature and the Governor.
The most common gun and firearm crimes that we see in our criminal defense practice are violations of Title 18, Sections 6105, 6106, 6108, and 6110.2. Section 6108 makes it a crime to carry an unlicensed firearm in the City of Philadelphia but this is a state law that applies to Philadelphia. It wasn’t a Bill which began in City Council and eventually signed by the mayor. It was a Bill that the Pennsylvania legislature (House and Senate) passed and the Governor signed in the law.
The Philadelphia Bill doesn’t appear to concern the National Rifle Association (NRA) and didn’t even issue a statement on it. While the Bill has the support of police in the city, it’s simply unconstitutional and is therefore unenforceable. Members of Pennsylvania’s legislature are unlikely to allow municipalities like Philadelphia to make their own gun laws because it creates a situation where gun owners would face different restrictions for different counties within the Commonwealth. Article 1, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution prohibits local governments from creating laws like this one. While Philadelphia has passed a Marijuana Decriminalization Ordinance, this legislation hasn’t changed Pennsylvania’s law regarding this controlled substance. Philadelphia is just choosing to not enforce Pennsylvania’s law but rather issue civil ordinance violations in these situations. For more information about crimes involving guns and defenses I encourage you to read my new book: What Everyone Should Know about Guns, Drugs, and Defense Lawyers in Pennsylvania.