To help you understand your rights and protections, the City of Philadelphia is creating action guides on federal policies. The action guides include facts, ways you can help, and other resources.

Philadelphia has the second highest percent of firearm homicide among big cities in the country. Although violent crime is declining in Philadelphia, homicides have increased by 14% from 2016 to 2017.

Here in the City of Philadelphia, there are many programs that work to reduce violence.

The City cannot reduce violence alone, though. We need action from the Pennsylvania legislature and the U.S. Congress to make our city's residents safer.

Learn more about current federal and state-level gun policies. Then find out about City programs, how you can contact your representative, and other ways you can take action.

Know the facts

How deadly is gun violence in the United States, in Pennsylvania, and in Philadelphia?

The United States has the 31st highest rate of gun violence in the world. Nationally, 70% of homicides in the United State were committed with a firearm. Since January 1, 2018, there have been 39 mass shootings and almost 10,000 total incidents involving firearms nationally.

Pennsylvania ranks 16th among the states for the highest rate of gun homicides. In 2016, 1,555 people died from firearm related deaths in Pennsylvania.

Philadelphia has the second highest percent of firearm homicide among big cities in the country. 85% of Philadelphia homicide victims were killed by gunshot in 2015. Although violent crime is declining in Philadelphia, homicides have increased by 14% from 2016 to 2017.

Guns are more lethal than other comparable weapons. A novice shooter using a handgun can fire around 3 shots per second. During the October 2017 Las Vegas shooting, the shooter converted a semi-automatic gun to replicate automatic gun fire, firing up to around 400 rounds per minute.

What federal and constitutional laws regulate gun ownership?

The “right of the people to keep and bear arms” in the United States is protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Federal law prohibits certain people from owning firearms including individuals with certain kinds of criminal records, mental illness or substance abuse; immigrants without legal status, veterans who left the military with a dishonorable discharge; anyone with a permanent restraining order.  There are others that are barred from owning firearms, and a full list of firearms prohibitions can be found here.

Federal law requires that licensed gun dealers conduct a background check, through a database run by the FBI, to see if the customer is among those prohibited from owning a gun.

The legal system has loopholes which results in people owning guns who, by law, should not have gun.  For example, non licensed dealers  that sell guns at gun shows are not required to do background checks under federal law. Incomplete listings of criminal cases within the FBI database can also lead to licensed gun dealers selling to a person who technically should not have a gun.

People who suffer from a mental illness but who do not appear in front of a court of law are not prohibited from owning a gun. The federal law provision on the mentally ill prohibits gun possession by a person “adjudicated as a mental defective or has been committed to any mental institution” by a court or other authority.  This is why many mass shootings have been carried out by people who were recognized by others as deeply disturbed, yet were able to own guns legally.

Most gun controls exist at the state level, with varying levels of restriction depending on the state.

What gun control laws does Pennsylvania currently have?

Pennsylvania does not require background checks for every gun sale. PA requires firearm dealers to conduct a background check on potential buyers purchasing from a licensed seller and all handgun sales must go through a licensed seller or a county sheriff’s office, and include a background check. However, this law does not apply to semi-automatic rifles or other rifles and shotguns during unlicensed sales. Individuals who have been convicted of a violent crime, declared mentally ill by the court, and are subject to an active protection from abuse order are prohibited from purchasing a handgun.

Pennsylvania does not require firearm owners to have a license. Federal law does not require firearm owners to have a license. Only three states (New York, Illinois, and Massachusetts) require firearm owners to have a license.

Pennsylvania law prevents law agencies from having firearm registries. Federal law does not require firearm owners to register their firearm. Only one state (the District of Columbia) has a firearm registry. PA records handgun sales in a state database. However, the database does not track long gun sales. Currently, section 6111.4 of PA law states that no government or law agency may maintain or operate a firearm registry.

Pennsylvania controls the right of Philadelphians to “open carry” and “concealed carry” guns. A person can “open carry” a gun, such as wearing it in a holster, or on a belt without a permit everywhere in Pennsylvania except in Philadelphia.  In Philadelphia, a permit is required to carry a gun or transport one in a vehicle.

Pennsylvania does not prohibit assault weapons. Assault weapons are defined differently. Different definitions lead to states banning different guns. For example, California bans around 75 “assault” weapon types, and New Jersey bans around 65. Assault weapons have been used in some of the deadliest mass shootings in the United States including the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida in 2016, which left 49 dead and 53 injured, and in the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut (28 dead, 2 injured).

Pennsylvania has fewer gun control laws and higher rates of gun death than our neighboring states of New York and New Jersey. New York and New Jersey have banned certain semi-automatic  weapons and high capacity magazines in addition to enacting state laws mandating universal background checks for sellers. New York and New Jersey also have lower rates of gun death. In 2016, New York and New Jersey witnessed 4.4 deaths and 5.5 deaths per 100,000 people respectively. PA witnessed 12 deaths per 100,000 people in 2016.

Gun laws in Pennsylvania make it easy to buy and traffic guns. In recent years, more trafficked guns have been coming from Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania is a popular choice for gun purchasers due to its proximity to I-95 and to states with stricter gun laws (New York and New Jersey). From 2012 to 2014, Pennsylvania ranked eighth for highest number of guns exported to other states and recovered in crimes, with a total of 5,844 such guns.

How does this affect Philadelphia?

Under current State law, Philadelphia is unable to pass laws on gun ownership or selling a gun. Philadelphia is unable to create restrictions on guns because of a state law  that says “No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth.”

Philadelphia City Council has passed gun-control bills in the past, however the courts have struck down these bills. In 1993, Philadelphia City Council passed a bill on banning assault style weapons. However, the State of PA passed a law repealing the ban and then the State Supreme Court  struck down the ban. In 2008, the Commonwealth Court struck down city ordinances banning assault weapons and limiting handgun purchases to one per person per month. Even though the City appealed this decision, in 2009, the Commonwealth Court again struck down both ordinances.

Since President Trump took office, has there been any action on the federal level?

President Trump blocked a bill that would have made it easier to do background checks on mentally-ill people. In 2017, President Trump signed a bill into law nullifying the NICS Improvement Act of 2007 that mandated the Social Security Administration to report mentally-ill recipients to the national background check database. The new bill, H.J. Res 40, states that all rules mandated by the NICS Improvement Act of 2007 are no longer in affect. Since then, several legislators have proposed bills and made efforts towards increasing gun control in response to Trump’s actions. Pennsylvania’s U.S. Senator Pat Toomey has announced plans to reintroduce bipartisan legislation that would expand background checks on gun purchases.

What is being done to address gun violence in schools?

The School District of Philadelphia makes sure that every Philadelphia public school has a safety plan in place that addresses everyday behaviors and emergency responses. The school district works closely with the Philadelphia Police Department to coordinate and address school safety issues. Two existing campaigns within the required safety plans include “See Something, Say Something”, a campaign designed to empower everyone to protect their neighbors, schools and communities and “Safe Corridors”, a formalized volunteer effort to maintain safety around schools. Both of these programs help to keep school properties safe and free of weapons.

Initiatives that fill out-of-school time for youth are also helping schools remain safe places. The Police Athletic League (PAL), helps reduce crime in neighborhoods by offering free educational, athletic, recreational, character-building and cultural programs to youth ages 6-18. The Youth Violence Reduction Partnership also works with young people who are most likely to kill or be killed by age 25 to help connect them with vital services such as frequent home visits, drug treatment, job readiness programs, as well as mental and behavioral health counseling.

Make sure your voice is heard. It is critical that Philadelphians contact their representatives and share your opinion on legislation that would help prevent gun violence and save lives.

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Share this guide with your friends and neighbors. Let people know the facts on gun policies and how they can take action to reduce gun violence. The City has also compiled a list of ways you can help reduce gun violence through City programs.