In case you’ve been too distracted by all the headlines about Syria, Hillary Clinton’s e-mail problems and the return of Bloom County to notice, Pope Francis spent the last few days here in these United States. TTAG reader James R. lives near Philadelphia, where His Holiness celebrated a hugely-attended mass on Sunday. The security measures taken in preparation for the Pontiff’s visit piqued James’ curiosity . . .
I live in PA, and while I don’t plan on being anywhere near the city when the pope visits this weekend, I noticed that large sections of the city are being sectioned off with security checkpoints and no guns are allowed in….
How does this work legally? (or doesn’t it?) PA now has strong preemption laws. Can they legally just ban guns in a huge section of the city where I could otherwise legally carry on any other day?
James is partially right: 18 Pa. C.S. sec. 6120 of the Pennsylvania code does indeed bar Pennsylvania counties, municipalities, or townships from imposing their own regulations concerning the “lawful ownership, possession, transfer or transportation of firearms, ammunition or ammunition components when carried or transported for purposes not prohibited by the laws of this Commonwealth”.
The one big exception: unlicensed open carry of a firearm is barred in cities ‘of the first class’ (i.e., Philadelphia,). But even that exception comes from state law, not a municipal ordinance. (The various attempts by cities such as Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, or Harrisburg to pass laws regulating firearms or ammunition are thus likely in violation of sec. 6120 of the Pennsylvania Code.)
The question veers a little off the track, however, where it assumes that the directive barring the lawful carriage of firearms in areas visited by Pope Francis came from a local government in Pennsylvania.
The Department of Homeland Security declared the Pope’s visit to Philadelphia, and concomitant mass to be a “National Special Security Event” (read more about NSSEs here). Accordingly, the U.S. Secret Service was put in charge of security arrangements, as per 18 U.S.C. sec. 3056. (You can read more about NSSEs here.)
• Animals other than service/guide animals
• Backpacks and bags exceeding the size restrictions (18″x13″x7″)
• Hard Coolers (Soft-sided thermal coolers are allowed)
• Drones and other unmanned aircraft systems
• Glass, thermal or metal containers
• Laser pointers
• Mace/Pepper spray
• Selfie Sticks
• Signs exceeding the size restrictions (5’x3’14’) made of any material except cardboard, posterboard or cloth
• Supports for signs and placards
• Toy guns
• Weapons of any kind
• Any other items determined to be a potential safety hazard
I guess most of those make sense from a dignitary-protection-perspective, if less so from a civil liberties one. But I’m still scratching my head over that selfie-stick ban – unless it was an under-the-table way to discourage the kinds of people likely to use selfie sticks in the first place.
Anyway, to answer James’ question: the gun ban was imposed by the U.S. Secret Service, which gets its lawful authority from federal law, and not the City of Philadelphia (or another Pennsylvania municipality/county). The preemption rules under 18 Pa.C.S. sec. 6120 apply only to Pennsylvania municipalities, therefore they wouldn’t apply to the USSS.
Now, that said, there is one thing that Pennsylvanians who like to open carry should know: be aware that a number of localities affected by the Pope-nado, such as Middletown Township in Bucks County, have declared the existence of a State of Emergency. Until the emergency ends, open carry of firearms is banned under 18 Pa.C.S. sec 6107, unless you have a License to Carry Firearms or you are “[a]ctively engaged in a defense of that person’s life or property from peril or threat.” Just be aware of that before going to an open carry demonstration in S.E. Pennsylvania until the Pope clears out.
[Hat tip: Gabe Rottman @ aclu.org re: NSSEs.]
DISCLAIMER: The above is an opinion piece; it is not legal advice, nor does it create an attorney-client relationship in any sense. If you need legal advice in any matter, you are strongly urged to hire and consult your own counsel. This post is entirely my own, and does not represent the positions, opinions, or strategies of my firm or clients.