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Pa. judge sides with Philadelphia’s ban on 3D-printed firearm parts after gun rights challenge

By Robert Moran
The Philadelphia Inquirer

PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court voted 4-3 last week to uphold Philadelphia’s ordinance prohibiting the manufacturing and assembling of 3D-printed gun parts used to create “ghost guns.”

The majority decision of the appellate court filed Friday said that Philadelphia’s ordinance, as amended in January 2021, did not violate the state constitution’s gun-ownership protections and a 1996 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that state lawmakers have sole authority over firearm laws, meaning that local jurisdictions, such as Philadelphia, cannot pass their own contradicting laws.

The challenge to the ordinance was filed in May 2021 by Gun Owners of America Inc., Gun Owners Foundation, and four Philadelphia gun owners. A Philadelphia Common Pleas Court Judge in September 2022 sided with the city. The Commonwealth Court decision affirmed the lower court’s ruling.

In the majority opinion, Judge Ellen Ceisler wrote that Philadelphia’s ordinance does not regulate “firearms,” but rather “merely prohibits the conversion of unfinished frames or receivers into firearms, as well as the use of certain manufacturing processes to create firearms from scratch, and bars the purchase, sale, or transfer of certain kinds of parts and machinery for purposes of those activities.”

Ceisler added: “To state the obvious, none of those parts, machinery, or manufacturing processes constitute firearms” under state law or the city’s ordinance.

Judge Patricia A. McCullough wrote in a dissent that the ordinance “plainly targets firearm possession and regulates firearm component parts that, practically speaking, could ‘readily be converted’ into firearms.”

McCullough added: “In short, if a local ordinance, resolution, or executive order looks like a firearm regulation and walks like a firearm regulation, it is a firearm regulation and is preempted. No amount of artful drafting, fancy definitional footwork, or sleight of legislative hand will save it.”

A spokesperson for the city could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Val W. Finnell, Pennsylvania director of Gun Owners of America, said in an emailed statement that his organization “disagrees with Judge Ceisler’s legally confusing decision and believes it to be in error. One cannot assert that the Pennsylvania General Assembly has preempted the entire field of firearms regulation and claim the City of Philadelphia’s ordinance does not regulate firearms per se.”

Finnell said Gun Owners of America is currently considering “all its options about how to proceed,” including appealing to the state Supreme Court.

Adam Garber, executive director of CeaseFirePA, applauded the majority decision.

“Ghost guns have become the public health menace over the last few years as violent criminals have turned to these untraceable firearms. (Friday’s) decision will save lives by allowing the city to enforce existing federal and state laws, ending the proliferation of these untraceable guns,” Garber said.

Despite the 1996 Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruling that the state legislature has the authority to preempt local gun-control laws, Philadelphia has repeatedly challenged the law as it continues to deal with rampant gun violence.


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