As mayors of the Commonwealth’s two largest cities, representing more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians, we unequivocally oppose Senate Bill 531 which is being considered in the Pennsylvania Senate.
This bill would pre-empt local jurisdictions from enacting sensible laws to protect their residents from deadly firearms. It gives the gun lobby the ability to sue local governments for their own financial benefit whenever they do not like a local gun law. Further, it would allow the gun lobby to force taxpayers to cover their legal fees, even if cities won in court.
Now more than ever we need uniform laws at the state and federal levels to protect Pennsylvanians — and all Americans. In absence of this, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and other localities have no choice but to pass and enforce laws that protect our residents.
We refuse to stand by as our children are put through active shooter trainings, our parents and grandparents cannot safely enter houses of worship, and people of all ages are taken from us too soon because some legislators refuse to stand up to the gun lobby. Laws should not be written by and on behalf of the gun manufacturing industry, and strictly for their profit. This is not normal, and we cannot accept it.
In Philadelphia, while overall violent crime is down, the 351 homicides and 1,403 shootings in 2018 — the most in the last decade — represent a distressing increase in gun violence. The challenges in Philadelphia are very different than gun violence in many other parts of Pennsylvania, which is why Philadelphia requires different solutions.
The City of Philadelphia and its partners are implementing a new comprehensive violence prevention strategy to the tune of $31 million in local funding. These efforts will not be successful, however, if we also do not address the far too easy access actors have to firearms. Our solutions must include the ability to draft and enforce certain gun laws that specifically address the unique challenges that Philadelphia faces.
While homicides have been trending downward in Pittsburgh the past five years, the impact of weekly killings on our streets and weight of innocent lives stolen cannot be forgotten. The murders of 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in October — the largest anti-Semitic attack in U.S. history — again show that efforts to stop ongoing gun massacres are not working.
There is no reason assault rifles, armor-piercing bullets and other materials designed only to kill should be used in urban environments, whether on city street corners, places of worship or anywhere our residents rightly deserve to feel safe. That is why Pittsburgh approved common-sense bills to disallow the use of such materials and adopt Extreme Risk Protection Orders, in which families and law enforcement can seek court approval to take firearms from those who may hurt themselves or others.
At the federal, state and local levels, the drafters of the U.S. Constitution, Pennsylvania Constitution and the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh Home Rule Charters understood that certain issues could not be addressed by a one-size-fits-all solution. This is why each of these documents bestow certain powers upon the government that is closest to the issue and more adequately equipped to solve it.
Instead of saving lives and preventing future tragedies, this bill would make it more difficult to address guns and ammunition. Therefore, we urge members of the General Assembly to oppose SB 531 and address the proliferation of both legal and illegal guns in Pennsylvania. In absence of any such action, at least provide local leaders with the ability to solve their challenges with local action. If federal and state lawmakers won’t take a stand to stop gun massacres, don’t tie the hands of those who will.