PHILADELPHIA (Reuters) - Two Philadelphia City Council members sued the Pennsylvania legislature on Wednesday for not allowing the city to enforce stricter gun-control laws amid a surge in violence in the city.
Democrats Darrell Clarke and Donna Reed Miller, in the lawsuit filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, say state lawmakers have failed to protect Philadelphia residents from firearms that have caused most of the 212 homicides — the highest rate in a decade — in the city so far this year.
The suit’s backers say the state legislature, which under Pennsylvania law must approve gun laws sought by a city, has created a “state of danger” in Philadelphia. They argue that the suit qualifies as an exemption to “sovereign immunity,” a law that typically protects governments from lawsuits.
At a news conference, Clarke said state lawmakers had failed to authorize seven city ordinances on gun control that were passed by the Democratic-controlled City Council and signed by Mayor John Street in May.
Among the laws sought by Philadelphia are a purchase limit of one handgun a month, a measure designed to crack down on so-called straw purchasers, who buy multiple guns on behalf of those who cannot legally do so themselves, usually because of a criminal record.
The suit is the latest response to an increase in gun violence that has given Philadelphia the highest per-capita homicide rate among the 10 largest U.S. cities, despite efforts by police, city government and community groups to stop the killing.
“We can’t continue to have vigils, task forces and marches,” Clarke said. “Something has to happen.”
Miller accused the state legislature of a “blatant disregard and disrespect for Philadelphia and its residents.”
The argument that state lawmakers have created a “state of danger” goes further than any previous suit by U.S. cities seeking to make their own gun laws, and could open the door to similar challenges, said Paul Helmke, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, a leading gun-control advocate.
“If Philadelphia succeeds in the ‘state of danger’ claim that would start a precedent across the country,” Helmke said in an interview.
Bill Patton, a spokesman for state House Speaker Dennis O’Brien, a Republican, said he had no comment on the suit because he had not seen it.
Pennsylvania has a strong firearms lobby and some of the least restrictive gun-control laws in the country.