A federal judge is poised to force Philadelphia’s hand after a breakout of Covid-19 shuttered the police unit that handles requests for gun permits.
PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Having closed the physical doors, Philadelphia must accept applications for gun permits submitted by mail and online under the terms of a compromise that a federal judge endorsed in court Thursday.
At a hearing this morning, U.S. Magistrate Judge David Strawbridge noted the “very significant give and take” between the city, which needs to have an effective licensing system, and the two young would-be gun owners who had sued it, praising the latter for being mindful of the budgetary and public safety constraints the city is working under.
During the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when only essential business was permitted, Philadelphia police shut down their Gun Permit Unit for four months beginning in March 2020. The office reopened in July, but at this point appointments were backlogged through 2022. On Nov. 18, the office closed again, tweeting that the office itself was facing an outbreak.
Represented by the Firearm Policy Coalition, 29-year-old Keith Fetsurka and 35-year-old Timothy Sieck complained that the Philadelphia police department’s physical-application requirements in an era when most other public services can be performed online violated the Second Amendment.
Danielle Outlaw, who is the city’s police commissioner, and Colonel Robert Evanchick, her corollary with the Pennsylvania State Police, meanwhile denied that that the rapid processing of a firearms license applications for public carry during a public health emergency was a protected right.
The terms of the agreement that the parties reached Thursday includes $30,000 from Philadelphia to the plaintiffs for damages and court costs, and an agreement to terms of how the city will operate its gun permitting office more effectively moving forward.
Going forward, the city will accept gun permit applications via online submission, via mail and in-person. Furthermore, if the city and gun-permitting office is forced to shut down again for any reason, the agreement says it must resume acceptance of in-person applications “as soon as reasonably practicable after the abatement of circumstance that forced the suspension.”
If in-person appointments are suspended, the terms also stipulate that the city will still accept mail and electronic submissions, which will be considered “received” the day they are submitted to the office — granted all parts of the application are filled out fully.
What’s more, if the city can’t offer 90% of applicants a time slot to pick up their permit within 45 days of when their applications have been approved, it must extend its hours of operations, the terms stipulate, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, and strive to have pick-up time slots available every 10 minutes.
U.S. District Judge Michael Baylson said at the hearing Thursday that the settlement between the two parties looked promising, but he plans to retain jurisdiction over the case for the next decade in case additional disputes arise. Some time after the hearing, he signed the order of judgment against the city.
“Having this in place will be an important element in the city’s effort to contain gun violence,” Baylson said Thursday. According to the Philadelphia Center for Gun Violence Reporting, the number of homicides in the city in 2021 are currently 30% higher than they were at this time last year. As of Monday night, 151 people have been killed in the city during 2021.
Neither Adam Kraut, FPC’s director of legal strategy, nor Kristen Bray, Philadelphia’s chief deputy city solicitor, immediately responded to requests for comment on the agreement Thursday. While both parties were present at the hearing, they did not comment on the case there.