Philadelphia, PA—On September 30, the City of Philadelphia, residents of Philadelphia and Allegheny County who have lost family members to gun violence, and CeaseFirePA filed their brief in their appeal to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in their case challenging Pennsylvania’s firearm preemption laws. The appellants are asking the Pennsylvania Supreme Court to reverse the Commonwealth Court’s dismissal of the case in a plurality decision on May 27, 2022, and to send the case back to the lower court for trial.
“Petitioners should have their day in court,” the brief reads.
Gun violence in Philadelphia is both a public health and civil rights crisis. Gun violence kills 1,544 people a year in Pennsylvania—a rate of 11.7 per 100,000 that surpasses most neighboring states. Black Pennsylvanians are 19 times more likely to die by gun homicide than white Pennsylvanians, and in Philadelphia, Black residents are five times more likely to be shot than their white neighbors are.
“The Legislature has been informed repeatedly about the enormous and escalating toll exacted by gun violence on the Commonwealth’s communities of color, and that local gun-safety measures would make a meaningful difference,” the brief reads. “But they have not only declined to enact such measures themselves; they have handcuffed local governments from doing so by enacting a series of amendments to increase the preemptive scope of state law.”
In the case, filed in October 2020, petitioners are seeking to overturn Pennsylvania’s firearm preemption laws, claiming that by blocking local action on gun violence while refusing to take statewide action, the General Assembly has violated the right to life and liberty under the Pennsylvania state constitution for communities that face gun violence.
Petitioners are represented by the Public Interest Law Center, the City of Philadelphia, and pro bono co-counsel from Hogan Lovells.
“Every single day, Pennsylvanians whose families and neighbors face an onslaught of gun violence are demanding action from every level of government,” said Mimi McKenzie, Legal Director for the Public Interest Law Center. “It is absolutely unconscionable for legislative leaders in Harrisburg to step between them and their local leaders and decree that most local regulations of guns are entirely off the table. Our clients deserve their day in court to challenge this untenable legal status quo.”
“For years, legislators have watched death tolls in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh rise. Despite repeated pleas from survivors, doctors and local officials, the General Assembly continues to endanger lives by publicly refusing even to consider, let alone enact, life-saving solutions. The Pennsylvanians already lost to this epidemic deserve their day in court — and that local leaders be empowered to honor them by acting to save the next life,” said Adam Garber, CeaseFirePA Education Fund’s Executive Director.
The appeal was supported by amicus briefs from the cities of Pittsburgh, Scranton, Lancaster, Allentown, Harrisburg, and Mt. Oliver; emergency room physicians; local government officials; the International Municipal Lawyers Association; A Better Balance; Brady; and Giffords Law Center. All spoke to the vital importance of allowing local governments to listen to the voices of their constituents and take action to address gun violence.
Nine leading doctors in Philadelphia—emergency room physicians, trauma surgeons, and rehabilitation specialists—filed an amicus brief in support of today’s appeal, describing their firsthand experience with the aftermath of shootings in Philadelphia. Dr. Alberto Esquenazi, Chief Medical Officer at MossRehab in Philadelphia, described the continuing toll faced by survivors of shootings and their families. Paralysis, amputation of limbs, nerve damage, loss of bowel control, and loss of a normal sex life are all consequences of shootings that his patients must carry with them for the rest of their lives.
“Too often, the physical trauma is compounded by depression and an inability to build meaningful relationships,” the brief reads. “Many family members are forced into unfamiliar caretaker roles or must provide other support that is beyond their emotional, practical, or financial means. Low-income, Black, and Latino communities suffer disproportionately. It is salt in the wound that these survivors are also less likely to have access to healthcare in the first place.”
“Pennsylvanians cannot be forced to sit and do nothing while their families and communities are ravaged by the menace of gun violence. This appeal seeks to vindicate their right to enact the kinds of protective measures that will save lives and prevent the tragedies they have suffered,” said Hogan Lovells counsel, Jasmeet K. Ahuja.