Safety committee OKs gun-control legislation

Posted: March 28, 2008

Kervin Henry was waiting at a bus stop on his way home to Germantown in October when three men walked up, brandished a pistol and demanded his money.

Henry had only a Transpass.

"They said: 'Man, just let him have it,' " Henry, 23, recalled yesterday, leaning on a crutch and explaining how one of the men shot him in the right knee.

That shooting landed Henry in a different sort of conflict yesterday at City Hall, as City Council took a big step closer to a court fight with the state on gun control.

Council's Committee on Public Safety approved legislation to limit handgun purchases to one a month; require owners to report lost or stolen guns to police; allow police to confiscate guns from people considered a risk to themselves or others; require a license from police to bring a gun into the city; ban semiautomatic weapons with clips that hold more than 10 rounds; and establish a registry for ammunition sales.

That legislation, introduced by Councilman Darrell Clarke, could be approved on Thursday.

Mayor Nutter, who has pledged to sign it into law and start enforcement, yesterday called it "the kinds of tools we need to make Philadelphia safer." The city Law Department, he added, is reviewing the legislation.

"Obviously, we want to be in the strongest position as it relates to enforcement," Nutter said.

This is a second try: The same legislation passed last year but was never enforced because it called for matching action by the state General Assembly that never came. Clarke sued the General Assembly, and Commonwealth Court is now deciding if the case can go forward.

By suing and trying to pass the legislation, Philadelphia is taking two routes to what it hopes is a final destination: A review by the state's Supreme Court of its 1996 ruling that struck down local gun-control laws in Philadelphia.

The state House and Senate, joined by the National Rifle Association, have challenged the city's ability to pass its own gun laws.

Clarke yesterday said that he was not sure what would happen if the city tried to enforce the laws in the face of that 1996 ruling.

"We're in uncharted waters at this point," Clarke said. "But given the level of significance of this issue, we think it's prudent for us to attempt every imaginable strategy as it relates to gun violence."

Deputy Police Commissioner Richard Ross yesterday told Council that his department supports the legislation. Later, he said it could have a "profound impact" on gun violence here.

"It's unfortunate that a lot of times you do believe you're in a fight alone," Ross said. "This just tells us we're not. In order to stem the tide of violence, we have to start somewhere. This is a good place to start."

As Council acted, Dr. Calvin Johnson, the state's secretary of health, held a meeting to discuss the Pennsylvania Injury Reporting and Intervention System, a pilot program that tracks victims of shootings in three Philadelphia hospital emergency rooms.

Johnson, who invited Henry to speak about the night he was shot, said the program targets victims between the ages of 15 and 24 and focuses on stopping the cycles of injuries and retaliations.

"It all fits together right now," Johnson said of Council's action and his program. "It's about breaking the cycle of violence and breaking it now."

State Rep. Dwight Evans, who has advocated for gun control in Harrisburg, praised Council's effort and said that it could "drive the pressure" for the Supreme Court to reconsider local gun control.

"They have the right to do what they're doing," Evans said. "Ultimately, the Supreme Court will decide who is right." *

Staff writer Catherine Lucey contributed to this report.

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