There’s no disputing the fact that Philadelphia has a violence problem. The city saw 499 homicides in 2020, which was the highest number in nearly 30 years; and shootings, carjackings, robberies, and murders are still on the rise in 2021. Last week eight people were shot in broad daylight at the city’s Olney Transportation Center, but so far police have yet to make any arrests in the case.
On Friday afternoon, Philly mayor Jim Kenney, police commissioner Danielle Outlaw, District Attorney Larry Kransner, and other officials held a press conference demanding that the Republican-controlled legislature in Harrisburg get to work on passing sweeping gun control legislation, including a ban on semi-automatic long guns.
They are asking for bills that would require reporting of lost or stolen firearms, restriction of the sale of military-grade weapons to keep guns away from abusers and stalkers.
They say “Philadelphia is among cities across the country that are grappling with increases in gun violence, too often enabled by cheap, unrestricted availability of firearms to individuals who demonstrate an inability to possess firearms responsibly.”
The gun laws in Pennsylvania haven’t changed much over the past few years, so it’s ludicrous to blame a lack of legislation for the dramatic rise in violent crime that’s taken place in the city over the same time period. Criminals in Philadelphia aren’t generally getting their guns through legal means, and the gun bans or lost and stolen legislation that officials are demanding won’t address the problem.
Instead of trying to ban their way to safety, it’s time that city officials got serious about their own role in the violence. District Attorney Larry Krasner has prosecuted far fewer violent felonies than his predecessor, and police commissioner Danielle Outlaw instituted a controversial policy during the first round of COVID closures last year that was designed to keep offenders out of jail.
Add to that the repeated closings of the court system in Philadelphia because of COVID concerns, and it’s not hard to see why violent crime is on the increase. More criminals are getting away with their crimes, which in turn leads to a growing sense of lawlessness and empowerment on the part of offenders.
Rather than focus on ensuring that the fundamentals of the criminal justice system are working, Mayor Kenney and his anti-gun allies are concentrating on feel-good, do-nothing efforts like a “gun buyback” scheduled to take place this weekend.
City councilmembers, along with Philadelphia Police and anti-gun violence activists, announced the latest gun buyback program aimed at getting more guns off the streets.
“Thus far we’ve collected over 200 weapons in the two attempts that we’ve done it,” Jones said.
Two gun buyback programs will be held on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church and Mt. Airy Church of God. One-hundred dollar gift cards for groceries will be used as an incentive to turn in working handguns safely and confidentially.
“We’re using groceries for guns and gift certificates at ShopRite to be able to put food on people’s tables as opposed to people in graves,” Jones said.
Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw says these types of gun buyback programs are effective in denting the number of weapons on city streets.
“Gun buyback programs such as these provide an opportunity for those in the neighborhood to meet with their local officers in a pressure-free environment,” Outlaw said.
There is zero evidence that so-called buybacks reduce violent crime, accidental shootings, or suicides. They’re absolutely worthless as a crime prevention measure, but politicians and public officials like them because they generate headlines and allow them to say they’re “doing something” about the problem.
Besides the buybacks, officials like Kranser have repeatedly held press conferences in recent weeks demanding that others take the lead in tacking the issue; calling on lawmakers to approve $100-million in community-based programs, for example, even while he implores the legislature to put more gun control laws on the books.
In other words, the city’s leaders are looking everywhere but in the mirror for solutions. They’re the ones that can put effective policies in place right now that could dramatically reduce violent crime, but instead they’re now wasting everyone’s time by proclaiming that the real answer is to restrict and infringe on the rights of legal gun owners.
Philly needs to implement Project Ceasefire and Project Exit immediately. Both programs work to identify the most likely violent offenders and offer them a way to turn their life around. If they refuse the help, then their criminal cases are moved from district court to the federal court system, allowing for longer sentences for the most prolific perpetrators of violence.
The city also desperately needs to improve its witness protection programs. It’s tough to put offenders behind bars if you don’t have people who are willing to testify against them, but you also can’t blame Philly residents for keeping quiet when they know that most criminals are quickly returned to the streets and even when they’re locked up their criminal associates can target those who are willing to work within the system and testify in court.
Passing more gun control laws won’t help, because the problem isn’t a lack of criminal charges for prosecutors to choose from. The problem is that crime is all too often consequence-free in Philadelphia, unless of course you’re one of the many victims of the violence that city officials still aren’t serious about addressing.