A Philadelphia man who works in the city’s Office of Violence Prevention is now on unpaid leave after the office learned that he was arrested earlier this year for illegally carrying a gun in public. Fox 29 in Philly reports that Morris Hobson, a Group Violence Intervention Coordinator with the office, was charged back in May for the crime.
The Office of Violence Prevention says Hobson did not disclose his arrest or charges when he was hired. They added that he was already a city employee when hired, and had transferred from one role to another.
The statement went on to say that the charges do not “automatically disqualify” Hobson from working in their office.
“However, due to the nature of the gun violence intervention strategy he works on, it does give us pause,” the statement continued. “We believe Morris is entitled to due process, and we await the conclusion of that process.”
This should be a teachable moment, and not just for the employee involved here. Philadelphia officials from the mayor on down can learn a valuable lesson; their gun control laws can put a guy with a bright future ahead of him into prison for what amounts to a paperwork error. If Hobson had been arrested for driving without a license, he’d be looking at a $200 fine at worst. Because he was allegedly carrying with an expired concealed carry license, he could be looking at five years in prison.
Is this really just and equitable? Does anyone really believe that justice would be served by sentencing Morris Hobson to prison simply because his license had expired? I doubt it. Yet neither Mayor Jim Kenney or city officials, who’ve been awfully quick to rail against the inequities of the criminal justice system, have criticized the gun control law that could put Hobson behind bars.
Mayor Kenney responded to questions from Cole about Hobson in his coronavirus briefing on Tuesday and claimed the arrest stemmed from an expired permit to carry.
Kenney added that Hobson’s leave is unpaid, and called his failure to disclose the charges to the Office of Violence prevention a “problem.”
Acting Managing Director Tumar Alexander also spoke to the allegations during the briefing Tuesday.
“I can’t defend Morris’ decision or mistake that he made. This young man is a community volunteer and leader outside of his job. That’s what he’s always been,” Alexander said. “He made a mistake, his registration wasn’t up to date and he’ll have to face his day in court to deal with that.”
I’m curious as to when Hobson’s license expired, because any concealed carry license expiring after March 19th has been extended until December 31st thanks to the coronavirus-related delays in processing applications and renewals. Honestly though, even if it had been expired for a year, the idea of a five-year prison sentence for failing to renew the license is ridiculous.
Constitutional or permitless carry is the best way to adhere to the right to bear arms in my opinion, but that’s not going to happen in Philadelphia without a court order. However, the state and city could truly reform both their criminal justice statutes and their treatment of the Second Amendment if pro-gun Republicans and pro-criminal justice reform Democrats were able to actually work together.
How about a system like this: If someone is carrying on an expired license, treat it like the paperwork violation that it is. If they’re no longer legally eligible to own the firearm, they can be charged with being a felon in possession of a firearm. If they’ve never applied for a license but are eligible for one, give them a $25 citation and a concealed carry application, and tell them to apply for their license to carry or else the next time it’ll be a far larger fine or a misdemeanor offense. It’s not perfect, but from a practical perspective, it would be much better than the current laws in place.
The good news for Morris Hobson is that D.A. Larry Krasner is likely to go easy on him. He’s gone easier on guys who’ve been accused of far worse, and this is an easy way for Krasner to garner a couple of easy headlines and positive press. The problem is that there are other Morris Hobsons out there, and they don’t all merit a news story when they’re charged with carrying a gun without a license. It’s impossible to believe that justice will always be served if the law in question is itself unjust. If Jim Kenney and other officials don’t understand that after watching a young man face prison for a victimless crime, I hope Morris Hobson gets the chance to explain it to them.