Philly Gun Arrests Rise, But Convictions Are Declining

(Amber Ross/Yakima Police Department via AP)

Police in Philadelphia are on pace to arrest more than 3,000 people for carrying a gun without a license this year, but that doesn’t mean that thousands of individuals are going to end up in jail as a result. In fact, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer, while arrests are going up, prosecutions and convictions for illegally carrying a gun are going down, and the paper pins the blame on Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

In 2021, police are making arrests for carrying an illegal gun on a pace nearly three times that of 2017, according to an Inquirer analysis of police data and eight years of court dockets.

Meanwhile, people accused of illegally carrying guns have seen their chances of getting convicted in court plunge from 63% in 2017 to 49% two years later.

Put plainly, people accused of carrying illegal guns in recent years have had better than a coin flip’s chance of beating their case in court.

The Inquirer analysis looked at cases where the most serious crime was a Violation of the Uniform Firearms Act (VUFA), nonviolent offenses that can range from carrying an unlicensed weapon, a misdemeanor, to being barred from possessing a firearm due to a previous conviction, a felony that can lead to years in prison.

Police have long considered VUFA arrests essential to reducing crime because they take weapons out of the hands of people who later might use them.

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said Philadelphia’s criminal justice system has become a “revolving door” for repeat gun offenders — leaving more of them on the street with their weapons, with little reason to fear the consequences of being caught.

Although she declined to single out District Attorney Larry Krasner, her top partner in Philadelphia law enforcement, Outlaw echoed a point that the Inquirer analysis revealed — that conviction rates for being caught with an illegal gun dropped after Krasner was sworn into office in January 2018.

Krasner’s a far-Left prosecutor, and I’ve leveled plenty of criticism at both him and his office for failing to prosecute violent offenders, but I don’t necessarily fault him for a lack of prosecutions when it comes to non-violent, possessory offenses. I don’t think that someone who’s simply carrying a firearm without a license should be looking at prison time as a result, particularly when 18 (soon to be 19 once Tennessee’s governor signs a permitless carry bill that just passed the legislature) states don’t require a permit to carry in the first place.

Philadelphia’s also put some unnecessary hurdles in front of those hoping to carry legally, including closing the city’s Gun Permit Unit during the COVID-19 restrictions last year. As a result thousands of applicants were unable to even drop off their paperwork, and the city ended up with a wait of more than a year for folks who are hoping to legally carry. It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if some of those folks decided to risk carrying without a license as the city’s violence crime rate began soaring upwards over the course of 2020, and Krasner says the majority of individuals arrested for possession without a license aren’t turning back up in court on violent charges.

Despite the drop in convictions for the nonviolent VUFA charges, most people arrested solely for gun possession have not been rearrested for new gun crimes, he contended. He is more concerned with swiftly and fairly convicting the people who actually use those guns to kill or wound others.

Amid the record rise in shootings, the vast majority of them unsolved, “We are dealing essentially with a form of triage, and we have to be sensible about what we prioritize,” he said.

That’s true (though it doesn’t explain why prosecutions for violent crimes have also declined under Krasner’s watch), and the city could help with those efforts by recognizing the legitimate right to keep and bear arms instead of trying to criminalize gun ownership. Not only should prosecuting violent crimes be a priority; encouraging lawful gun ownership should be one as well. In that respect, Philadelphia is failing miserably. Officials like Mayor Jim Kenney and Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw continue to view lawful gun ownership as a problem in and of itself, but making guns taboo actually exacerbates the problem.

The city should be focusing on violent offenders, while taking a proactive and positive approach to responsible gun ownership. They should be helping residents to legally and lawfully exercise their rights, but instead the city’s focus remains on trying to arrest their way to safety, even if the majority of those who end up in handcuffs never posed a threat in the first place. Law-abiding citizens are discouraged through rules and regulations from exercising their Second Amendment rights, while Krasner’s office is prosecuting fewer violent criminals as well as those arrested for non-violent, possessory offenses. That’s a recipe for disaster, and its effects can be seen in some of the city’s most violent neighborhoods on a daily basis.

 

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