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When the City of Philadelphia filed suit against gun makers, it also pitted itself against the laws of the state of Pennsylvania, Eastern District Judge Berle Schiller has found. “The court has found plaintiff City of Philadelphia has drawn into question the constitutionality of a Pennsylvania statute affecting the common interest,” Schiller wrote. The state Attorney General has until Oct. 6 to intervene in the suit, which challenges the Uniform Firearms Act. Attorney General Mike Fisher could not be reached for comment late Wednesday. “I don’t think that the order to intervene will change the outcome of the suit,” Philadelphia City Solicitor Ken Trujillo said, acknowledging that the court’s order was not unexpected. “We remain confident of our legal position,” he said. The suit, filed by the city and several community groups in Philadelphia Common Pleas Court in early April, accuses gun makers of “knowingly engaging in a … pattern of conduct, for their own financial benefit, that is harmful to all who reside, work or travel in the city of Philadelphia.” The suit was removed to federal court in May, and the city settled with Smith & Wesson in June. The suit, like 17 others pending around the United States, seeks to recover costs from gun violence, including medical care, police protection, emergency services and prisons — a figure estimated at tens of millions of dollars annually. However, in December 1999, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Senate Bill 167 amending the firearms act, which prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms, to specifically deny a right of action by cities, schools or other political subdivisions against gun manufacturers for costs related to the lawful manufacture and sale of firearms. “No political subdivision may bring or maintain an action at law or in equity against any firearms or ammunition manufacturer, trade association or dealer for damages, abatement, injunction relief or any other relief or remedy resulting from or relating to either the lawful design or manufacture of firearms or ammunition or the lawful marketing or sale of firearms or ammunition to the public,” the amendment says in part. “The meaning of this amendment is plain: the City of Philadelphia may not bring this lawsuit,” gun manufacturers said in their motion to dismiss. In its response, the city raised the question of the act’s constitutionality and applicability. In his finding, Schiller addressed only this rebuttal; he will rule on the motion to dismiss after hearing oral arguments next Tuesday. The defendant gun manufactures — 13 companies, including Glock, Browning and Beretta — argue that the city is prohibited from pursuing the suit under both the statute and the amendment. The motion to dismiss also challenges the standing of the five plaintiff civic organizations, which are not subject to the statute. “The firearms immunity statute does bar certain litigation, but, by its terms, not this particular litigation,” the city responded. The city argues that the statute addresses only “regulation” of firearms, not litigation; in the suit, it is the court, not the city, which has the power to “regulate” firearms. The amendment, the city says, cannot prohibit the suit because the city’s accrued cause of action predates the amendment’s adoption and because the legislature included an exception for the “unlawful conduct” alleged in the suit. “Legislation that negates accrued causes of action is invalid for two powerful reasons: because it exceeds the legislature’s power by encroaching on the domain of the courts and because it infringes on the due process rights of the particular litigants,” the city’s response says, invoking the city’s home-rule status and right to self-government as a source of those rights. The gun manufacturers’ response is due to the court by today. Counsel for the gun manufacturers could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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