Deadlier than usual Fourth of July

Posted: July 12, 2010

Homicides and gun violence in Philadelphia spiked during the Fourth of July weekend, making it the deadliest Independence Day weekend in the city in five years, police statistics show.

The shooting death of Kyle Featherstone, a junior at Simon Gratz High School, was one of eight during the four-day holiday weekend, including five on Friday, July 2.

Featherstone, 16, was shot in the chest and head when a gunman fired into a crowd in Mantua returning from a fireworks display July 4 at the Art Museum. He died the following night.

"A young man was at a huge gathering that should have been a festive occasion. He gets shot," said Chad Lassiter, president of the Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, an organization at the University of Pennsylvania. "There's no specific trend, the larger issue is: How can we enact gun legislation and conflict-mediation?"

The number of gunshot victims this Fourth jumped from 18 last year to 31 this year, according to police stats.

"I think the holiday weekend proves that access to illegal guns and gun trafficking hasn't gone away," said Joe Grace, executive director of CeaseFire PA, an organization that works to prevent gun violence.

The July 4 holiday weekend in 2005 saw 38 gunshot victims including six homicides.

By contrast, no homicides were recorded during the Independence Day holiday weekend last year, and just one in 2008.

"You get spikes in violence periodically," said Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. "We do have a lot of violent people who are not afraid to use a handgun."

"We are awash with guns in this culture," Grace said. "When these flashes happen, it bears witness that we have a problem in this state."

The problem, Grace said, can be attributed to weak state gun laws.

"What about the rights of people to walk safely through the streets of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania?" Grace said. "I think that right is equally as important as the right to own a gun."

According to the Pennsylvania state gun law, people with handguns who enter the state are not required to register them.

In addition, a person must be at least 18 years old to possess a firearm unless the "minor is lawfully involved in hunting or trapping activities," or unless the minor is supervised by a parent or legal guardian and involved in lawful activity.

In Pennsylvania, a license to carry firearms is only required to conceal a firearm or to carry a firearm in a motor vehicle. But state law says that a license is required to carry a firearm in any manner on the streets or public property in Philadelphia.

Grace said he's pushing for the state to establish a law that would require people to report lost or stolen guns to the police.

Grace added that Philly police collect thousands of illegal guns yearly.

"Will it solve the problem?" Grace said. "No, but it is a step in the right direction."

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