Officials call for stronger law on illegal gun possession

Posted: August 22, 2014

AS A GROUP of law-enforcement and elected officials called yesterday for a mandatory two-year sentence for people convicted of illegally carrying a firearm, kids in the South Philadelphia neighborhood watched and played.

It was a beautiful, sunny day.

But on Aug. 1, horror enveloped the area after Tynirah Borum, 3, who was getting her hair braided on a porch on Etting Street near Dickinson, was fatally shot.

The alleged gunman, Brandon Ruffin, 22, had been released from jail on July 3, after serving 23 months on an 11 1/2-to-23-month sentence after pleading guilty to illegally carrying a weapon.

If there had been a two-year mandatory minimum for people convicted of unlawfully possessing a gun, Ruffin would have been in custody Aug. 1 and Tynirah would be alive, officials said.

"We know that those who carry illegal firearms do so because they intend on harming others," District Attorney Seth Williams said at a news conference on Dickinson Street, around the corner from where Tynirah was shot. "We need an additional tool to lock up these offenders."

Williams said New York City had the "political will to reduce the gun violence" there. That city had about 2,400 homicides caused by gun violence per year. It imposed a 3 1/2-year mandatory-minimum sentence for those who unlawfully carried guns. Because of that and other reasons, New York last year had fewer gun homicides than Philly, he said.

State Rep. John Taylor, R-Philadelphia, and state Sen. Larry Farnese, D-Philadelphia, have sponsored bills calling for the two-year mandatory minimum. The House bill has progressed farther. It has passed the judiciary committee and is "teed up" to be voted on by the full House, Taylor said.

Farnese expressed aggravation that the mandatory minimum had not yet been made into state law. He urged his fellow lawmakers to take action when they return to Harrisburg next month.

The House bill "should not have any opposition from any special-interest group . . . that has letters in front of it that begin with an N," Farnese said, referring to the NRA. "It is totally ridiculous if we get back to Harrisburg and we begin to hear, 'We can't move this bill.' That's the lunacy that I have to deal with."

District attorneys or their first assistants from Philly's surrounding Pennsylvania counties attended the news conference. "This bill does not affect those who strongly support the Second Amendment," said Delaware County D.A. Jack Whelan, who said he believes in the right of lawful citizens to bear arms. "This bill is targeted to criminals."

Bucks County D.A. David Heckler, calling himself "a representative of the suburban gun packers," said the bill would put "the bite on the people who are scofflaws, who don't care, who are willing to violate the law."


On Twitter: @julieshawphilly

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