Two key provisions of Philadelphia's most recent attempt to impose local gun controls - banning "straw purchase" of handguns and banning assault weapons - were invalidated today by a state appeals court.
Following a series of rulings that doomed previous Philadelphia gun control laws, the Commonwealth Court held that the state Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that only the state legislature - not municipalities - has the authority to enact gun laws.
But the 6-1 majority of the Commonwealth Court affirmed part of the 2008 decision of then-Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge Jane Cutler Greenspan and allowed three other provisions to remain in effect.
Greenspan, now on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, had ruled in those three provisions that the National Rifle Association and other challengers of the Philadelphia laws were not affected seriously enough to have legal standing to sue.
Those provisions - requiring reporting of lost or stolen handguns, allowing temporary seizure of guns by police and barring gun ownership by people subject to "protections from abuse" orders - remain in effect in Philadelphia.
Richard Feder, chief of appeals in the city Law Department, said his office is "seriously considering" appealing the two invalidated provisions to the state Supreme Court.
Feder said the reporting provision is now in effect and the other two have not yet been implemented because they are legally complex and require the city to draft and adopt regulations.
In invalidating the assault weapon and straw purchase provisions, Judge Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter, the president judge of Commonwealth Court called the precedent set by the Supreme Court in 1996 "crystal clear."
Judge Doris Smith-Ribner wrote separately, concurring and dissenting from the majority opinion.
Smith-Ribner wrote that she did not believe the Supreme Court had totally barred local gun control and said a case could be made for provisions of the Philadelphia ordinance regulating assault weapons and the "straw purchase" of guns for other people not legally permitted to own firearms.
The five city ordinances, enacted in April 2008, were immediately challenged in court by the National Rifle Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Pennsylvania Association of Firearms Retailers, two local firearms retailers and four individuals.
"It's signficant," said Joseph Grace, executive director of the gun-control group CeaseFire PA, of the Commonwealth Court's decision.
Grace noted that the city's lost-or-stolen reporting ordinance is now the only one in Pennsylvania that has passed court muster - despite a failure to enact a similar law last year in the legislature.
"This decision simply puts the ball back where it should be - in the General Assembly," Grace said. "Cities and mayors have been taking action in the absence of any action from the General Assembly."
Since Philadelphia passed its gun control package in April 2008, Grace said, six Pennsylvania cities and one borough have enaced ordinances requiring the reporting of lost or stolen handguns: Allentown, Reading, Pottsville, Pittsburgh, Lancaster and Harrisburg and Wilkinsburg Borough in Allegheny County.
The NRA recently challenged the Pittsburgh ordinance in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, Grace said.