While Philadephia Mayor Jim Kenney, D.A. Larry Krasner, and other city officials have demanded that the GOP-controlled legislature in Harrisburg approve a number of gun control bills (including a ban on modern sporting rifles), a freshman Democrat is offering up a piece of legislation that would do far more to improve public safety and reduce violent crime in the city, without infringing on the rights of law-abiding residents.
Rep. Amen Brown says he’ll be introducing a bill in the near future that would increase the penalties for being a felon in possession of a firearm. Each subsequent offense would come with more time behind bars, including a mandatory minimum sentence to ensure consequences for those carrying a gun when they’re prohibited by law from possessing one.
“Prior convicted felons are illegally obtaining firearms to commit violence on our streets, feeling that if they are caught and prosecuted, their consequences are minimal,” he said in a memo that began circulating Monday afternoon to his House colleagues seeking their support. “The terrorizing of our neighborhoods must stop and those committing these crimes must be held accountable.”
His proposal also would make these offenders ineligible for bail unless they can demonstrate that they won’t pose a public safety risk if released.
Brown, who could not be reached on Monday for comment, represents a district in West Philadelphia that residents live in constant fear in their neighborhoods, he said in his memo.
“It is hard to witness what is happening in my community, as well as hear the fear that my constituents possess,” he said.
We know that in cities like Philadelphia, a preponderance of violent crime is committed by a few individuals, most of them well known to law enforcement and the court system. Rather than trying to impose new laws on the possession of firearms for all, Brown’s taking a targeted approach to dealing with the most violent offenders. Not only is that a much more constitutionally sound approach, it’s going to be far more effective than criminalizing the Second Amendment and hoping to ensnare violent criminals along with otherwise law-abiding gun owners who may run afoul of the infringements on their right to keep and bear arms. As Brown writes in his memo to fellow legislators:
This bill is not designed to impose mandatory minimums on nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession offenses – as this has been a point of contention before in relation to mandatory minimums. This bill is identifying a specific, narrow, demonstrably highly violent category of offenders to stop those offenders from reoffending and deter those who might otherwise commit violent crimes. I believe that building up our neighborhoods and economically developing our communities starts by making them safe.
Not only does this bill offer a more effective and constitutionally acceptable alternative to lawmakers trying to ban their way to safety, it’s likely to be far more palatable politically for the Republican majorities in the state legislature. Philly’s mayor, district attorney, and police commissioner are offering nothing but soundbite solutions to the violent crime plaguing the city; gun bans, compensated confiscation events, and declaring gun violence a public health emergency. Rep. Brown, on the other hand, is offering a pragmatic, legally sound, and targeted tactic to pursue the most prolific offenders and remove them from the streets.
The only real downside to Brown’s proposal that I can see is that he wants to offer the legislation on a four-year trial basis. I’d prefer this simply become law, but if Brown wants to view this as an experiment rather than a permanent solution, that’s his legislative prerogative.
I don’t know how many of his fellow Democrats are going to get behind his proposal, but I hope that Republicans in Harrisburg lend their support to the measure and send it to Gov. Tom Wolf’s desk for his signature. A bill that targets violent criminals instead of legal gun owners is worth supporting, and the good people living in high-crime neighborhoods deserve all the real help they can get.