Case Against Philly’s Gun Permit Office Will Proceed

A federal judge said Thursday a hearing is needed to determine whether a Philadelphia gun permitting office that closed its physical location due to a Covid-19 outbreak among staff violated citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

Gunowners who have been waiting months just to apply for a permit to carry a loaded firearm in Philadelphia sued the city Nov. 20, 2020. (Image via Courthouse News)

WASHINGTON (CN) — A federal judge ruled Thursday to keep alive a lawsuit that claims the city of Philadelphia trampled gun rights after a surge of Covid-19 cases led the police unit that handles permit requests in the city to shutter. 

Filed last fall by the Firearm Policy Coalition in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the lawsuit claims individual plaintiffs 29-year-old Keith Fetsurka and 35-year-old Timothy Sieck faced a months-long wait list just to apply for a permit to carry a loaded handgun due to Philadelphia’s massive backlog.

Philadelphia shut down the Gun Permit Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department in March during the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when only essential business was permitted and reopened in July. Appointments were backlogged through 2022 at the time the lawsuit was filed in November in response to a second shutdown of the office due to a Covid-19 outbreak in its own office.

In his nine-page ruling Thursday, U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson denied a motion to dismiss filed by Philadelphia, the city’s police commissioner Danielle Outlaw and the Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Colonel Robert Evanchick, saying that he needed more information to resolve the dispute at hand.

“The Court will not attempt to analyze or resolve the significant issues raised by both parties in the briefing,” Baylson wrote. “The Court believes that an evidentiary hearing should take place to explore the issues with direct and cross-examination, followed by briefing on the merits.”

The final hearing is scheduled for April 19.

According to the ruling, the city claims that “the rapid processing of a firearms license application for public carrying during a public health emergency is not a right protected under the Second Amendment.” 

Whereas the Firearm Policy Coalition says the extent to which the city has delayed applications, and its failure to implement any sort of online permitting system during the pandemic, constitutes “an infringement on applicants’ constitutional rights under the Second Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment.” 

Adam Kraut, FPC’s director of legal strategy, said in a statement Thursday that his organization was pleased with the judge’s decision to proceed to a hearing. 

“We look forward to engaging in discovery and presenting information to the Court to ultimately vindicate the Second Amendment rights of the plaintiffs and all Philadelphians,” Kraut said. 

Attorneys at the City of Philadelphia’s Law Department and the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office did not immediately return requests for comment Thursday.

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