How to fight illegal guns

ASSOCIATED PRESS U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (left) and Pat Toomey reached a bipartisan deal for background checks.
ASSOCIATED PRESS U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin (left) and Pat Toomey reached a bipartisan deal for background checks.
Posted: April 16, 2013

THE STREETS OF Philadelphia are almost as weaponized as the old Frankford Arsenal, except the arsenal arms were in good hands.

The hoods who tuck guns into their waistbands feel comfortable doing so because "to carry a gun without a license in Philadelphia has historically been a joke," according to District Attorney Seth Williams.

We're not laughing.

In an investigative report Monday, Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and David Gambacorta explode the myth that most guns used to shoot up Philadelphia were bought somewhere in the South and smuggled in.

Actually, most "crime guns" are bought in-state, legally - then resold, passed from hand to hand and enter the black market. The "crime gun" may have been bought by a straw purchaser, who buys the gun for someone who can't pass a background check.

For the last half-dozen years, Philly's gun-homicide rate has remained stable - between 244 and 284. In the rest of America, gun homicides have dropped by about half in the last two decades - except in some cities, including New Orleans, Baltimore, Newark, Chicago and Detroit.

Last year, 414 gun homicides were reported in New York, 284 in Philly. Although New York had 130 more gun deaths, it has five times our population.

Since 2003, New York has used aggressive tactics, such as "stop and frisk," to put fear into the hearts of illegal-gun toters. Police also flood the zones where those criminals are likely to hang out, and the street work is complemented by a mandatory 3 1/2-year sentence for illegal-gun possession.

Wham, wham, bam.

After Mayor Nutter ordered "stop and frisk" in select (high-crime, low-income) neighborhoods, there were complaints about heavy-handed tactics. I had asked the mayor if he felt comfortable putting that power in the hands of police.

He told me he trusted the police, which is what you would expect from a mayor, but it is a view not widely shared in the black community.

Philly should copy New York and use a blue tide to permanently flood the few neighborhoods where most gun violence takes place. But with the number of cops dropping in recent years, where do you find the officers?

Reassign a raft of them currently fighting the war on drugs. Not all of them, of course, but given a choice between the guy pushing a nickel bag and the guy selling a nickel-plated .40, go after the gun guy instead of the grass guy.

The D.A. wants two years of mandatory jail time for anyone caught with a gun illegally obtained, or carrying a gun without a permit. That's currently only a misdemeanor.

The problem: That must be a state law, and Harrisburg is a partially owned subsidiary of the National Rifle Association. Can we convince the NRA that a mandatory minimum hurts only bad guys? Doesn't it support that?

Well, not when it came to criminal-background checks. As regards gun law, any gun law, the NRA has only three responses: No, nein, nyet. By its calcified opposition to everything, the NRA - pardon the expression - shoots itself in the foot. And I say that as a responsible gun owner.

But after Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Pat Toomey and West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin - both rated A by the NRA - bravely supported the background check, there may be hope.

Anyone who has looked at the proliferation of illegal guns knows two fronts are needed to beat the barbarians. As in the TV series "Law & Order," first we need cops smartly deployed to make the arrests. Then we need laws to put the bad guys away.

No one says this is going to be easy, or cheap.

But no one can say we don't know what to do.


Email: stubyko@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5977

On Twitter: @StuBykofsky

Columns: philly.com/Byko

Blog: philly.com/stuniversity

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