Closed for Covid: Gun Permit Office Dragged Into Philadelphia Court

Gunowners who have been waiting months just to apply for a permit to carry a loaded firearm in Philadelphia sued the city Friday, Nov. 20. They included this image in their complaint, showing a sign taped to the door of the police department’s Gun Permit Unit that says the office is closed until further notice. (Image via Courthouse News)

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — A federal judge heard arguments Monday afternoon that Philadelphia trampled gun rights after a resurgence of Covid-19 cases struck the police unit that handles permit requests.

The Firearm Policy Coalition brought the suit Friday in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, joined by two young men, 29-year-old Keith Fetsurka and 35-year-old Timothy Sieck, who have been waiting months on Philadelphia’s massive backlog just to apply for a permit to carry a loaded handgun.

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. The office reopened in July, but appointments are backlogged through 2022.

Fetsurka says his long-awaited appointment was supposed to be Nov. 19, but the office abruptly closed the day before.

As explained in a tweet from the city’s police department, the permit unit is closed until at least Dec. 7 because of an outbreak in its own office.

Fetsurka and the others filed for an injunction Monday, calling it unconstitutional that the city is effectively banning loaded handguns with no exemption for law-abiding citizens.

Across Philadelphia, demand for licenses to carry firearms is about three times higher during the pandemic than normal, according to NBC 10.

Though U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson denied the coalition a temporary restraining order after a teleconference Monday afternoon, he also set an expedited hearing to consider its bid for an injunction.

“The individual plaintiffs have long been seeking a gun permit and may be entitled to a permit and are undoubtedly frustrated by the delays,” wrote Baylson, a George W. Bush appointee.

Fetsurka and the coalition alleged as much in the Friday lawsuit.

“Uncertain times such as the present are precisely when Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs’ members must be able to exercise their fundamental rights to keep and bear arms,” the 77-page complaint states. “The challenges we all face because of the Covid-19 coronavirus, election, social unrest, or other social ills do not, cannot, and must not justify or excuse government infringements upon fundamental human rights.”

Ahead of a Dec. 8 videoconference, Baylson set a Dec. 2 teleconference to discuss the hearing.

City and state officials did not return a request for comment Monday, but Adam Kraut, the coalition’s director of legal strategy, called the move encouraging.

“We will continue to quickly move this case towards a judgment on the merits and work to protect the right to keep and bear arms,” Kraut said in a statement.

Earlier, Kraut said the city’s de facto gun ban puts residents in a dangerous position.

“Philadelphians who do not have a license are now being completely denied their rights on pain of severe criminal penalties,” Kraut said in a statement. “The commonwealth’s and city’s laws and polices, and their related enforcement actions, are an unconstitutional total ban on the the right to bear arms.”

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