The Brief: The Return of Local Gun Control
1. Now that the Commonwealth Court has overturned a controversial law making local gun control efforts harder to enact, will cities and towns get back into the gun control game?
The gist: Last week, a Commonwealth Court panel ruled that Act 192 — a state law that made it far easier for the National Rifle Association to challenge local gun control ordinances — is unconstitutional. It was a a rare victory for gun control advocates in Pennsylvania. After Act 192 was adopted by the legislature in 2014, dozens of local municipalities repealed their gun control ordinances, rather than risk getting sued by the NRA, and getting stuck with big legal bills. If the Commonwealth Court’s ruling stands, the old status quo would return. At Newsworks, Bill Hangley explores what the impact of the ruling is likely to be:
“Our borough council was very disappointed to have to repeal the ordinance,” said Ed Foley, mayor of Jenkintown, one of the many municipalities that took its gun-control ordinances off the books in response to the passage of the state law. “We’ll look into reinstating it as quickly as we can.”
“People want to put those ordinances back on the books. Some will do so quickly. Some will wait and see if there’s an appeal,” said Shira Goodman, head of the gun control advocacy group Cease Fire PA. “Many of these towns felt they were forced into a corner, acting under duress.”
The overturned law, known as Act 192, gave gun rights groups the power to sue towns and municipalities whose gun laws contradict the state’s, without having to find a resident who could show “harm” caused by the local law. Act 192 also required that local governments that lost in court pay the victor’s legal fees.
Why it matters: Philadelphia didn’t back down after Act 192 was passed, but plenty of smaller municipalities did. And since there are no metal detectors at the city borders, municipal-level gun laws can obviously impact neighboring communities. Presuming the State Supreme Court upholds this decision, those towns could be emboldened to put their old laws back on the books — and perhaps to explore new ones.
But it’s important not to overstate the importance of the Commonwealth Court’s decision on Act 192. Even before that law was passed, cities and towns were barred from enacting gun control measures that might actually make a material difference on the streets.
2. The mayoral race, in gorgeous photos.
The gist: Philly.com staff photographer Stephanie Aaronson followed the mayoral candidates throughout the primary season. She’s put together this beautiful photo essay of the candidates, catching them in formal and informal moments, and everything in between. Check it out.
Why it matters: Two reasons. 1) These photos humanize the candidates in a way no forum can. 2) They’re a compelling reminder of the role photojournalism can and should be playing in the coverage of just about every story, not just sports.
3. What’s the deal with “Philadelphia’s very own Stonehenge?”
The gist: Inga Saffron answers a question that every visitor to Penn’s landing asks at least once. What the hell is that massive concrete that looks kind of like a giant, san-serif pi sign? It’s part of the support structure for a never-constructed tram that was supposed to connect Penn’s Landing to the Camden waterfront. Writes Saffron:
The grandiose scheme was the brainchild of Ed Rendell, then Philadelphia’s mayor. He managed to sign up the Simon Property Group, a major shopping-mall operator, which promised to build an enormous parking garage topped by an “entertainment mall” that would feature a historic carousel, the Please Touch Museum, and a Cheesecake Factory. The tram was supposed to land on the roof and move 3,000 people an hour between the two sides of the river.
Why it matters: As Saffron writes, it’s “an apt monument to our waterfront dreams and municipal overreaching.”