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Philadelphia judge blocks enforcement of gun ban at recreation centers and playgrounds

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Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images

On Monday, a Philadelphia judge blocked enforcement of the mayor's executive order banning guns from recreation centers and playgrounds.

Last week, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney signed an executive order banning firearms and other deadly weapons from 159 public places around the city, including recreation center spaces, athletic courts, playgrounds, and pools.

"Pools, playgrounds and rec centers are no place for a gun," Kenney said. "It's unconscionable that anyone would bring deadly weapons to places where our city's children gather."

Immediately following the executive order, Gun Owners of America filed a lawsuit on behalf of several Pennsylvania residents. A 1996 state supreme court decision prevents cities and counties from passing gun-control measures.

On Monday, Common Pleas Judge Joshua Roberts agreed with the plaintiffs and ordered the city "permanently enjoined" from enforcing the mayor's order following the legal challenge.

Andrew Austin, the attorney representing the plaintiffs, said, "For my part, I am gratified that the Court of Common Pleas was able to so quickly resolve this suit, but that was in large part because the law is so explicit: The City is not allowed to regulate possession of firearms in any manner."

The attorney accused the mayor and city officials of intentionally wasting time and taxpayer money on a "feel-good" measure. "This was nothing more than a press release, and would not have — in any way — addressed the crisis of crime in our City," stated Austin.

Kevin Lessard, a spokesperson for the mayor, noted that the mayor's office is reviewing the judge's decision. He expressed disappointment in the ruling and said it "prevents city employees from making the reasonable request that anyone with a firearm or deadly weapon leave a recreation facility."

"The mayor's executive order was intended to prevent the senseless violence that is interfering with the safety of children, families and staff in what must be safe places," Lessard continued.

Judge Roberts stated that his ruling was based "purely on legal questions." However, he also quoted two dissenting opinions from the 1996 state supreme court decision, implying the case should be revisited.

The judge quoted then-state supreme court Justice Russell Nigro's dissenting opinion in Ortiz v. Commonwealth. He stated, "it is fundamentally essential that the local government enact legislation to protect its citizens whenever the state legislature is unable or unwilling to do so."

Judge Roberts also quoted Commonwealth Court President Judge Emerita Bonnie Brigance Leadbetter, who wrote that the "overwhelming blight of gun violence" in the city "may well justify more severe restrictions than are necessary statewide."

The judge noted that he "shares, echoes, and amplifies the sentiments" in the two quoted opinions.

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