Inquirer Editorial: A bipartisan gun crackdown

Stricter gun laws were the goal of a protest in Love Park last week.
Stricter gun laws were the goal of a protest in Love Park last week. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 17, 2013

A bipartisan, regional coalition of law enforcement officials and legislators is right to back a mandatory two-year sentence for anyone caught carrying a gun illegally in Philadelphia. Of last year's 331 homicides in the city, more than 80 percent were committed with guns, according to police data. And District Attorney Seth Williams says virtually all of those guns were illegal.

"People who carry guns illegally are the people who are shooting people, murdering people, pistol-whipping people, threatening witnesses," said Williams, who is pushing for minimum-sentence legislation sponsored by State Sen. Larry Farnese (D., Phila.) and State Rep. John Taylor (R., Phila.).

The bill targets those who possess guns illegally in Philadelphia, but it was also welcomed by two suburban prosecutors who aren't afraid to acknowledge that gun violence doesn't stop at the city line. District Attorneys Risa Vetri Ferman, of Montgomery County, and John Whelan, of Delaware County, say many of the people arrested in their jurisdictions have committed prior gun crimes in Philadelphia.

"I have no doubt that a safer Philadelphia is a safer Delaware County," Whelan said recently. Unfortunately, many of the state's suburban and rural legislators have been unable to embrace that principle and support tougher gun laws.

The Farnese-Taylor bill is modeled on a New York law that applies to New York City and requires a minimum sentence of 3 ½ years. That law is credited with reducing gun violence in the city.

Philadelphia's 69 homicides so far this year represent a decrease from 99 over the same period last year. That may be partly because prosecutors are seeking higher bails and longer sentences in cases involving guns. Meanwhile, police are trying to prevent retaliatory shootings by looking more closely at the gang membership of shooters and victims.

The proposed two-year minimum sentence would be another worthwhile step to curb the gun epidemic that helps thugs rule the streets and intimidate residents. The legislature should move quickly to put this bill on Gov. Corbett's desk.

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