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decided: February 27, 1978.


Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County in case of George W. Schneck, Howard M. Kuehner and The Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, Inc. v. City of Philadelphia and Frank Rizzo, Mayor, and Sheldon Albert, City Solicitor, and Hiller Levinson, City Managing Director, and Joseph O'Neill, Commissioner of Police and Dominic Sabatini, Commissioner of the Department of Licenses and Inspections and Colosimo's Gun Center, No. 6241 May Term, 1975.


John F. X. Fenerty, with him Charleston & Fenerty, for appellant.

Paul Rucci, Special Assistant to the City Solicitor, with him Sheldon L. Albert, City Solicitor, for appellee.

President Judge Bowman and Judges Crumlish, Jr., Wilkinson, Jr., Rogers and Blatt. Opinion by Judge Blatt. Dissenting Opinion by Judge Crumlish, Jr.

Author: Blatt

[ 34 Pa. Commw. Page 98]

George W. Schneck, Howard M. Kuehner and the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen's Clubs, Inc. (Appellants) appeal the order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County which dismissed their complaint below and denied them a permanent injunction of the enforcement of Philadelphia's gun ordinance.*fn1

The Appellants were unable to purchase firearms in Philadelphia (City) because, although they proffered compliance with the Uniform Firearms Act*fn2 (Act), they refused to comply with the application and license requirements of Ordinance 10-814 (Philadelphia Code § 814) which regulates the acquisition and transfer of firearms in that City. They brought a class action to enjoin the City and its duly elected and appointed officials and officers from continued enforcement of the ordinance, and they argue that the regulation of firearms is a matter of statewide concern governed by state legislation so that the Philadelphia ordinance regulating firearms is consequently invalid and unenforceable.

The Philadelphia ordinance provides that "no person shall acquire or transfer any firearm in the City . . . [nor] outside of the City, which is brought into the City, unless application has been made to, and license obtained from, the Department [of Licenses and Inspections]." This application must include the applicant's name, address, occupation, photograph,

[ 34 Pa. Commw. Page 99]

    fingerprints, a description of the firearm and a statement indicating the date, place, nature and disposition of any criminal proceeding brought against the applicant for any offense other than traffic violations. The ordinance further provides that no license shall be issued unless the Police Department, after due investigation, approves the application, that no one may give, transfer, sell or deliver possession of any firearm to any person unless the required license is supplied, and that a fine of not more than $300.00 and/or imprisonment of not more than ninety days may be imposed for violation of the ordinance.

The Appellants argue that the ordinance is attempting to regulate the "lawful ownership, possession or transportation of firearms" and is therefore preempted by state legislation which provides for the comprehensive regulation of the sale, licensing, transfer and delivery of firearms throughout the state. The Act includes detailed provisions regarding the application for and issuance of licenses, specifically providing in Section 6120 in pertinent part:

§ 6120. Limitation on Municipal Regulation of Firearms

(a) General rule. No county, municipality or township may in any manner regulate the lawful ownership, possession or transportation of firearms when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this commonwealth.

Added by Section 2 of the Act of October 18, 1974, P.L. 768, 18 P.S. § 6120.

The City of Philadelphia, as a municipal corporation created by the state, possesses only the powers specifically granted to it by the legislature. School District of Philadelphia v. Zoning Board of Adjustment, 417 Pa. 277, 207 A.2d 864 (1965). Furthermore,

[ 34 Pa. Commw. Page 100]

    the Philadelphia Home Rule Charter,*fn3 Section 18 of the First Class City Home Rule, 53 P.S. § 13133, provides:

Notwithstanding the grant of powers contained in the act, no city shall exercise powers contrary to, or in limitation or enlargement of, powers granted by all of the General Assembly which are --

(b) Applicable in every part of the Commonwealth

(c) Applicable to all the cities of the Commonwealth (footnote omitted).

In addition, it is a well-established principle of law that where a state statute preempts local governments from imposing regulations on a subject, any ordinances to the contrary are unenforceable. United Tavern Owners of Philadelphia v. Philadelphia School District, 441 Pa. 274, 272 A.2d 868 (1971); Harris-Walsh, Inc. v. Dickson City Borough, 420 Pa. 259, 216 A.2d 329 (1966); Department of Licenses and Inspections v. Weber, 394 Pa. 466, 147 A.2d 326 (1959); Girard Trust Co. v. Philadelphia, 336 Pa. 433, 9 A.2d 883 (1939); City of Erie v. Northwestern Pennsylvania Food Council, 14 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 355, 322 A.2d 407 (1974).

In light of the specific language of the statute here concerned, we are not convinced by the lower court's opinion or by the City's argument that a review of the legislative history of Section 6120 of the Act requires the conclusion that it was the legislature's specific intent not to invalidate Philadelphia's ordinance. It is a rule of statutory construction that, when the words of a statute are clear, the letter is not to be disregarded under the pretext of pursuing its spirit. Section

[ 34 Pa. Commw. Page 1011922]

of the Statutory Construction Act of 1972, 1 Pa. C.S. § 1922. See Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board v. Teamsters Union Local No. 77, 20 Pa. Commonwealth Ct. 410, 342 A.2d 158 (1975); Paxon Maymar, Inc. v. Pennsylvania Liquor ...

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