For Immediate Release:
September 12, 2023
For More Information:
Adam Garber, CeaseFirePA Executive Director, (267) 515-1220, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jonathan McJunkin, Public Interest Law Center, Communications Manager, 570-337-1969, email@example.com
Sarah Peterson, City of Philadelphia, firstname.lastname@example.org
Survivors Remember Slain Loved One’s Day Before PA Supreme Court Hearing Considers Local Communities’s Powers to Combat Gun Violence
PHILADELPHIA — The grief caused by decades of the General Assembly rejecting life-saving laws was on display outside the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania Tuesday. Local officials, survivors, and advocates described nearly 50 years of harm from the Commonwealth’s preemption of local gun safety ordinances. Local officials, survivors, and advocates described nearly 50 years of harm from the Commonwealth’s preemption of local gun safety ordinances. They urged the Court to give residents of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh a chance to demonstrate at a trial in Crawford v. Commonwealth that the state preemption laws have violated their constitutional right to live free of gun violence, and to prove that our cities must be empowered to enact critical gun safety ordinances.
“If giving Philadelphia the right to have its own gun laws saves life, the Court should do it,” said Stanley Crawford, whose son, William Aboaje Samir Crawford, was murdered in 2018. “To not, would demonstrate our government has lost its humanity.”
Ten survivors from Philadelphia and Pittsburgh joined the City of Philadelphia and CeaseFirePA Education Fund to sue the Commonwealth for endangering lives, especially the lives of Black residents, who are 21 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than white Pennsylvanians. With the passage of the 1974 Limitation on the Regulation of Firearms and Ammunition Act, the General Assembly handcuffed local governments and barred them from enacting evidence-based policies like requiring permits to purchase firearms and Extreme Risk Protection Orders. As shootings escalated, a trove of data from other urban centers provided options to legislators for statewide policies that could prevent the violence. In each session, dozens of bills languished without even a hearing.
“The Pennsylvania Uniform Firearms Act binds our hands as we fight the scourge of gun violence and senseless loss of life in Philadelphia. There is no justification for this restriction that could possibly outweigh the negative effects of gun violence – especially the lives cut tragically short and the enduring psychological trauma to residents,” said Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. “To be clear, we are arguing on both principle and the empirical evidence showing that the constitutional, common-sense approaches we’re currently prevented from taking would reduce gun violence in Philadelphia. With this lawsuit we are petitioning the court to let us save lives and protect the communities most impacted by our national crisis of gun violence.”
“Justice is blind, not deaf. The cries of mothers, parents, and children from decades of gun violence stoked by the General Assembly make it clear this public health crisis could be ended if communities are allowed to use proven tools. We hope the Justices recognize that everyone should be able to live free and safe from gun violence,” said Adam Garber, CeaseFirePA Education Fund’s Executive Director.
While the Commonwealth Court dismissed their case in a fractured decision in May 2022, Judge Leadbetter wrote in her concurring opinion that damage caused by preemption required consideration by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. She called out the reality for many children that walking just a block from their house poses a deadly risk in many parts of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. The petitioners appealed to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which will consider the appeal at oral argument tomorrow.
“We’re glad to stand here today with some of the many victims and survivors of gun violence in our city,” said Council President Darrell L. Clarke, a longtime legislative advocate for stronger gun laws for Pennsylvania and Philadelphia. “Our city is flooded with illegal guns, and we need relief – now. We hope and pray that our judges and court system are listening to the voices of victims – and to the legal pleas from the City of Philadelphia.”
Between 2018 and 2022, the latest year covered by CDC firearm mortality data, gun homicide rose by 44% in Philadelphia and Allegheny County. Facing increased calls for action, the General Assembly didn’t convene a single hearing on evidence-based solutions highlighted in the lawsuit during that timeframe.
Members of both parties have supported preemption during the last few decades, demonstrating the need for judicial intervention to empower Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to keep their constituents safe.
“In the face of the everyday tragedy of gun violence, it is unconscionable for legislative leaders to maintain that an entire category of solutions—most local regulations on guns—are completely off the table,” said Mimi McKenzie, legal director and interim executive director of the Public Interest Law Center. “Pennsylvanians in communities that face endemic gun violence are demanding action. It’s time to clear the roadblocks.”
“I am a member of a club that no one wants to be a member of, the worst club in the world: mothers who’ve lost their sons and daughters to gun violence. I joined when my son Khaaliq was murdered over a parking space dispute. I pray for other women not to have to join us,” said Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, Founder and National Executive Director of Mothers in Charge. “Our numbers grow yearly because the General Assembly has rejected our pleas for decades. The Justices must understand that until Philadelphia can act, more parents will lose their most precious children. They should not ignore a mother’s tears.”
LISTENING TO ORAL ARGUMENTS IN CRAWFORD V. COMMONWEALTH
The Supreme Court of PA oral arguments can be watched in person in City Hall Room 456 on September 13th starting at 9:30 AM. The room is limited, with plaintiffs in the case given first priority. There may be overflow space. Alternatively, you can listen to the arguments at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hk2yPihF-lg
As the Commonwealth’s leading gun violence prevention organization, CeaseFirePA Education Fund organizes communities closest to the issue, holds those in power accountable, and maximizes the strengths of every member in its broad coalition.