Meanwhile, D.A. credits senator for tougher gun law

Posted: October 20, 2008

ON THE EVE OF his public-corruption trial, state Sen. Vince Fumo received kudos from District Attorney Lynne Abraham for his "extraordinary" help in increasing penalties for straw purchasers of firearms.

In a letter to Fumo dated Thursday, Abraham said that the senator and his aide, Christopher Craig, were key in "finding common ground, derailing harmful amendments and securing passage" of House Bill 1845.

The bill would not have passed, had Fumo's trial begun on schedule. Fumo was able to steer the bill through the General Assembly by Oct. 8, after his trial was postponed when U.S. District Judge William H. Yohn Jr. became ill last month during jury selection.

As the legislative chair of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association, Abraham wrote that the association had been trying to get the tough gun legislation passed for nearly two years.

Gov. Rendell signed the legislation into law on Friday, surrounded by relatives of recently killed Philadelphia police officers.

It increases penalties for possessing a firearm with an obliterated serial number, altering a gun's serial number, or lying on a federal application to buy a gun.

It also extends the statute of limitations from two years to five for straw purchasers who buy firearms for criminals.

And it calls for a mandatory 20-year sentence for a person who shoots, or shoots at, a police officer.

"There were times during this session that the legislation appeared in danger of never being considered by the General Assembly," wrote Abraham.

The DA said it would enhance the tools "available to law enforcement investigating the black market for illegal firearms in the state."

Rendell said the new law was "not a panacea" but would provide a "framework" for gun control, according to the Inquirer.

Both Rendell and Abraham are listed as Fumo defense witnesses, while Craig is a potential government witness.

Meanwhile, the prosecution and defense have been at odds regarding admission into evidence of Fumo's "alleged good works." Assistant U.S. Attorney John Pease has argued that they were unrelated to allegations in the case, would invite "jury nullification" and be prejudicial to the government.

But defense attorney NiaLena Caravasos has argued that Fumo has the "same constitutional right as any citizen" to present a "complete defense," and that the government is trying to "tie the hands of the defense while yet attacking the senator mercilessly."

U.S. District Judge Ronald Buckwalter, who replaced Yohn, said he would rule on the issue prior to opening statements. Jury selection continues today.

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