Philadelphia sued over gun permit backlog

A few weeks ago we discussed the situation in Philadelphia, where prospective gun buyers (of the legal variety) are being told that they will have to wait for months or, in some cases, a year and a half to apply for a permit. The reason being offered by the city is that they have an unprecedented backlog of people looking to go through the application process and insufficient resources available to meet the demand because of the pandemic. That comes as little consolation to all of the people who have suddenly taken an interest in their Second Amendment rights as their neighborhoods are engulfed in flames and street violence.

Perhaps that situation will be changing in the near future. A group of frustrated shoppers, in conjunction with a gun-rights group, has filed suit against the city, claiming that they are in violation of a state law requiring permit applications to be processed within 45 days. (Free Beacon)

A gun-rights group accused the Philadelphia Police Department of illegally forcing residents to wait up to 18 months to apply for a gun-carry permit in a lawsuit.

Gun Owners of America (GOA) said the city has infringed on the rights of local residents by ignoring a Pennsylvania law that requires localities to process applications within 45 days. Val Finnel, the group’s Pennsylvania director, said the lengthy wait times actively harm locals who are seeking to exercise their Second Amendment rights.

“They’re essentially denying the right to defend yourself,” Finnel told the Washington Free Beacon.

When I first heard about this issue, I immediately suspected that the trick Philadelphia was using to get around the law looked very shady and likely illegal. The city is aware that they have to process permit applications within 45 days. To get around that inconvenient fact, they’ve been telling people that they have to make an appointment to even get an application. And those appointments are being given for dates stretching out to 2022 in some cases.

All they’re doing is shortsheeting the law in this fashion. Restricting access to applications is the same thing as denying applications with no valid reason being offered. As the plaintiffs note in their suit, most of the rest of Pennsylvania has handled this problem by moving the application process online or by allowing people to apply through the mail. The workers who are tasked with processing the applications are able to do so while working remotely in most cases. But Philadelphia has made no effort to adjust to the challenges posed by the pandemic in a similar fashion.

I will take issue with one aspect of the lawsuit, however, and that’s the comparison the plaintiffs draw between Philadelphia proper and neighboring Bucks County. That’s a more suburban/rural area with a considerably lower population density. It’s also a bit more conservative in nature, so more of the residents there probably already had permits before the current crisis struck. The police departments in Bucks County generally have far fewer people showing up to apply for permits on a daily basis, so they’re probably not under as much pressure as the central part of the city.

The real question here is what Philadelphia will do even if a court sides with the plaintiffs and orders them to start processing all of the permits within the mandatory 45-day window. If they say they don’t have the people and the resources to do that, how will they make those resources magically appear? They can move their application process online, which would certainly help speed things up when conditions return to “normal” but that’s not going to do anything to allow them to instantly clear a backlog of tens of thousands of applications. And it’s possible that a judge hearing this case might be sympathetic to such a response. In that scenario, the backlog might be cleared before the lawsuit makes its way through the entire process.