A community group gun ban: what do the River Wards think?

After one Police District Advisory Council in the city banned civilian members, even those with permits, from carrying guns to its meetings — it could be the first to ever do so — local community groups say they’ve never considered enacting such a bylaw.

A police district advisory council last week banned civilian members from carrying guns to its meetings. It could very well be the first time any kind of community group adopted a weapons ban.

Two civic organizations contacted by Star said they don’t have such a prohibition.

“We have no such rule or bylaw, said Matt Ruben, president of the Northern Liberties Neighbors Association. “I don’t believe it’s ever been considered.”

“To the best of my knowledge, the Olde Richmond Civic Association does not have such a bylaw,” president Phillip Stoltzfus stated Monday. “And as long as I’ve been on the board, it has not been discussed.”

The 2nd Police District Advisory Council’s new bylaw prohibits anyone but sworn law-enforcement officers from bringing guns to its sessions. The ban would extend even to those who have permits to carry weapons. The 2nd Police District encompasses the Lower Northeast west of the Roosevelt Boulevard.

The bylaw was approved 19–1 on Feb. 12. It will take effect in 30 days.

“We will be posting a sign on the door of the meeting room each month,” said Lynn Genetti, the PDAC’s chairwoman.

The PDAC is an umbrella organization made up of community group members, business owners and educators who regularly meet with police to exchange information about neighborhood crime trends and policing strategies. PDACs are not open to the general public. Unlike civic groups, PDACs don’t look at zoning issues.

“While I understand that the Police Advisory Council can enact their own bylaws, I’m supposing that their enacting of such a bylaw is due to the particular nature of what is discussed at their meetings,” said Katherine V. Micklow, president of the Fishtown Neighbors Association.

Genetti said her organization hasn’t had a problem with civilians bringing guns to its sessions. The police officers who attend, of course, always are armed. Genetti said she wanted to be proactive by bringing up the subject.

“The recent tragic events and discussions that are occurring nationally,” prompted the bylaw proposal, Lynn Genetti said.

She was referring the ongoing public debate precipitated by the December murders of 20 schoolchildren and six adults in Newtown, Conn.

“Our meetings are designed to be safe spaces for civil dialogue,” Ruben said. “If someone were to brandish a weapon at one of our meetings, I believe we would ask them to leave. If it appeared to be a dangerous or threatening situation, we would of course call the police, as anyone would.”

Ruben said the NLNA has no procedures in place for checking to see if people are bringing concealed weapons into its sessions.

“We operate under the assumption that our meetings are not venues where anyone would do so,” he said.

Mike Thaete, president of the 15th Police District Advisory Council, said the organization has no bylaws about carrying firearms to its meetings.

“It’s never been an issue,” he said Monday.

“We do not have security at our membership meetings,” Micklow stated, “and, thus, tend to generally follow state law; it’s unclear that an adoption of such a bylaw by the FNA would have more authority than current state law.”

The 2nd PDAC’s move might be unprecedented for any kind of neighborhood group. Genetti said she is not aware of any other organizations that have banned firearms.

“This is new territory,” said Capt. Frank Palumbo, the 2nd District’s commander.

Right now, the captain said, a person with a license to carry gun may be arrested on weapons charges if the gun is brought onto school property. However, he said he believes individual property owners may ask people not to carry weapons. If the person with the gun refuses to leave, Palumbo said, the person with the gun might get arrested on a defiant trespass charge, not a weapons charge.

Although those with carry licenses aren’t breaking any laws unless they’re on school property, the captain said, “I’m aware it makes people uncomfortable. … It’s a distraction at a public meeting.”

All groups should check on what’s permitted on the properties that host their meetings, Lynn Genetti said.

“A responsible organization should know all of the rules/regulations for the facility they are using,” she stated.

Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215–354–3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com.