Annette John-Hall: Ramsey: Gun-control debate is not going away

Charles H. Ramsey
Charles H. Ramsey (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff)
Posted: January 19, 2013

This week, President Obama put forth a series of executive orders and a sweeping legislative package to implement, finally, some kind of lasting gun control.

All these are measures that have been called for, at one time or another, by Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey.

But Ramsey is not at all optimistic those recommendations will become the law of the land - on the federal or state levels.

"It's going to be a tough fight legislatively," Ramsey said Thursday, a day after Obama's announcements. "People still don't get it. They think this is all an overreaction that infringes on their rights. And that's a debate that's not going away."

So what else is new? How many times have Mayor Nutter and City Council tried to enact local gun laws - including banning assault weapons and cracking down on straw purchasers - only to have them shot down by Corbett and company?

But that was before the Newtown massacre of 20 innocent first graders and six of their educators a little more than a month ago finally snapped us out of our avoidance mind-set.

According to a new Time/CNN poll, a solid majority of Americans supports most of the president's commonsense proposals.

"The president," says Ramsey, "carries a lot of weight."

Apparently, so does our police commissioner. A 40-year law enforcement veteran who heads the Major Cities Police Chiefs Association, Ramsey was one of the first people Vice President Biden plucked to serve on a gun-violence task force the president convened.

Ramsey recently met with Biden, Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, and dozens of national law enforcement officials in Washington.

"We discussed responsible measures that can be taken," says Ramsey.

'A moral responsibility'

Measures like requiring universal background checks for all gun owners, banning military-style assault weapons, putting a limit on high-capacity magazines, and closing the gun-show loophole that allows people to buy without undergoing a background check - you know, all of the major proposals gun-control proponents have been advocating for years.

But Ramsey was just as interested in talking about the kind of gun violence that happens in cities like Philadelphia, where the 9-millimeter handgun is the weapon of choice. (The commissioner said that out of 2,400 guns recovered last year, only 79 were assault weapons.)

Ramsay says he goes to crime scenes no longer expecting to see one shell casing: "Sometimes we see as many as 30 and 40."

And though shootings were down 9 percent last year, homicides were up 2 percent. Which means that last year in Philly, 331 people were shot multiple times by people who intended to kill them.

"We have to find a way to deal with all of these issues," Ramsey says.

What's it going to take? A multipronged approach from law enforcement, social services, federal, state, and local lawmakers, academia, and those of us who have had enough.

For folks who think strict gun laws violate the Second Amendment and are not, at any rate, a preventive or solution, Ramsey has a ready response.

"You don't know what you're going to prevent," he insists. That's because "no one walks into a police department and says, 'You know, I was going to kill some babies today, but your laws stopped me.'

"But you do have a moral responsibility to minimize the opportunities, and that's what we're trying to do here."

Contact Annette John-Hall at 215-854-4986,, or follow on Twitter, @Annettejh.

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