As of September 13th, there’ve been 372 homicides in Philadelphia this year. That’s an increase of 16% over 2020, which ended with 499 murders, just one shy of the city’s all-time record. But to hear city officials talk, the city doesn’t have a murder problem, or an attempted murder problem, or an aggravated assault problem. No, instead it’s a “gun violence” issue.
In the latest issue of Philadelphia Weekly, former police officer Ben Maness writes that “by using the term ‘gun violence’ instead of the legal definitions of murder, attempted murder, and assault, the accountability for the criminal who committed these violent crimes is semantically shifted to the mere tool they illegally used to victimize others.” As Maness explains both in his column and on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, that semantic shifting isn’t an accident on the part of guys like Mayor Jim Kenney and D.A. Larry Krasner, but a deliberate attempt to “obfuscate their responsibilities to keep their constituents safe by trying to shift the blame to gun control laws.”
“It is a fact that less than 1% of the time, legitimate gun owners discharge their firearms, and usually when that occurs, it is done legally in defense of themselves, in defense of family member(s), in defense of an innocent victim, or in defense of their property,” said a senior Philadelphia police commander, who spoke to PW under a condition of anonymity due to a fear of reprisal from the department. “We do not have people with gun permits and registered firearms, going around the streets of the city, randomly shooting people. Recidivist criminals, the overwhelming majority who were let out by [Philadelphia District Attorney] Larry Krasner, are committing the shootings.”
One of the earliest American gun control laws was theSullivan Act, enacted in the state of New York in 1911. The act did little to curb violent crime in New York, which peaked through the 1970s to the 1990s. This steady rise in New York’s violent crime rate was stopped in the mid-1990s, following the elections of Gov. George Pataki and Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, who focused on law enforcement as opposed to new laws that do little when existing ones go unenforced.
Instead of thesuccesses of the Guiliani administration marking a sea change in municipal accountability, federal, state, and local politicians are still using terms like “gun violence” and proposing a myriad of costly strategies to avoid accountability for their constituents’ safety. Here in Pennsylvania, this became evident in March, when Gov. Tom Wolf and Attorney General Josh Shapiro took part in a “gun violence” town hall organized by CeaseFire PA. It was during this virtualevent that Wolf admitted to an increase in violent crime in Pennsylvania, by saying “2020 gun violence rates were up all across the board.” Wolf went on to say, “Last year we saw more firearm-related murders, more shootings, more mass shootings.” In response, Wolf advocated for changes to Pennsylvania gun laws.
Similarly, Shapiro said it’s time for change, saying, “You can be both pro-Constitution and pro-common sense and pro-public safety.” In response, House majority spokesman Jason Gottesman, said in a statement that “new gun laws will only lead to more opportunities for illegal gun use and will do little to prevent the senseless tragedies that have recently occurred.”
Those on the street have a clearer perspective to the issue. Mike Bresnan, head of Local 22, the union representing the city’s firefighters and paramedics, said, “This isn’t about guns, it’s about a total lack of accountability by our city’s criminal justice leaders.” Bresnan continued: “Every day, our members treat and transport repeat victims of violent crime, addiction, and accidents.”
As Maness points out, Philly doesn’t just have a murder problem. It has an overdose problem as well. Last year, when there were 499 homicides, there were also 1,214 overdose deaths, which got little attention compared to the spike in homicides. The issue here isn’t that Philadelphia doesn’t have enough drug laws on the books, because last time I checked heroin, meth, and fentanyl were all illegal to possess in Philly. It’s a failure of leadership in Philadelphia that’s to blame for both the historic levels of murders and drug overdose deaths, according to Maness; a problem exacerbated by Philly’s one-party rule.
In fact, Maness doesn’t hold out much hope at all for any changes to made at the local level. Instead, he’s pointing to legislation in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives that would allow the state to take over certain responsibilities for public safety if cities like Philadelphia can’t get their act together. Crime and gun control may also end up being a major issue in next year’s gubernatorial race, especially now that former U.S. Attorney for Eastern Pennsylvania William McSwain has entered the Republican primary. McSwain routinely sparred with Philadelphia’s DA over a lack of prosecutions for violent felonies, and he’s running on a Back the Blue, fund the police platform as well as professing support for the Second Amendment. If anyone can make the case that it’s the violent individuals and not the tools they use that we need to focus on in order to reduce crime, the former federal prosecutor for Philadelphia would seem to be a pretty good choice.