Hearing held on state’s gun laws
State lawmakers discussed ways to limit incidents of gun violence in Philadelphia, Norristown and everywhere else, while still respecting the rights of hunters and responsible gun owners, during a hearing Aug. 16 in Montgomery Township.
A bill by state Rep. Todd Stephens, R-151, may be the answer, and Stephens and state Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, R-12, hosted several area law enforcePHnW RIficiDls in D Sublic hHDring to discuss the bill and its potential to stop criminals before they commit crimes.
“This bill would establish D fivH-yHDr PDnGDWRry Pinimum prison sentence for anyone caught illegally carrying a gun. These are folks who have a prior felony conviction and are now once again running afoul of the law,” said Stephens.
“The bottom line is, if we want to get serious about tackling gun crime, we’ve got to get serious about our penalties here in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Ramping up those penalties is the main goal of House Bill 2331, which Stephens, a former prosecutor in the Montgomery County DA’s 2IficH, inWrRGucHG. 7hH bill has already passed the state House.
The bill not only establishes WhDW fivH-yHDr SrisRn SHnDlWy IRr IHlRns SRssHssinJ D firHDrP, iW DlsR GHfinHs SRssHssing a weapon by a felon as a crime of violence — which Stephens said is designed to make felons think twice before carrying weapons.
“That makes it subject to Pennsylvania’s three-strikes rule. As a second offense it would be a 10-year mandatory minimum prison sentence and a third offense would be a 25-year mandatory minimum prison sentence.”
Greenleaf chairs the state Senate Judiciary Committee and said that the bill would likely be discussed in committee in September and he hopes to recommend it to the full Senate for a vote sometime that month, “after a few minor things are worked out.”
“That’s why we have these hearings, to hear different RSiniRns DnG finG RuW whDW wH need to work on,” he said.
Several area law enforcePHnW RIficiDls WHsWifiHG Guring the hearing, including two of Philadelphia’s most prominent: police Commissioner Charles Ramsey gave statistics on gun crimes so far this year in the city and Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams described the law enforcement tools currently available for prosecutors going after drug dealers, shooting suspects and those involved in straw purchases for illegal guns.
“Philadelphia has been plagued by this for quite some time. So far this year we’ve had 223 homicides in the city of Philadelphia and 82 percent of those were committed through the use RI firHDrPs,” 5DPsHy sDiG.
“This is only the 229th day of the year, so that’s close to one homicide a day on average. And we’ve had more than 850 people shot in our city so far this year,” he said.
Philadelphia police have recovered more than 2,000 illHJDl firHDrPs RII WhH ciWy’s streets so far this year and more than 700 people have bHHn DrrHsWHG IRr firHDrPs viRlations, but Ramsey said the stricter penalties “will go a long way toward being a disincentive for people to carry guns illegally on our streets.”
According to Ramsey, 65 percent of the victims involved in those shootings have been involved in violent crimes beforehand, and 84 percent of offenders have had previous arrests; 67 percent of those offenders have a violent crime arrest on their record, so stiffer sentences for those who already have a prior felony can be a powerful tool for law enforcement.
“We’ve done as much as we can do in terms of trying to identify these individuals and get them off the streets, but we need support, the kind of support you’re providing through this legislation,” he said.
:illiDPs WHsWifiHG IrRP WhH legal end of Philadelphia’s perspective and described hRw his RIficH hDs incrHDsHG prosecution of gun crimes and begun asking for higher bail for any offenders caught with illegal guns.
“It’s a totally different approach that we have to handle with those who carry illHJDl firHDrPs, bHcDusH WhHy have made a conscious decision that they are willing to kill,” he said.
When Stephens asked about how the city prosecutes straw SurchDsHs RI firHDrPs IRr IHlons, Williams said police can often use ballistics to match bullets with guns and then gun records to match guns with their owners, but cases occur when an owner tells police the gun was stolen from them and “clearly this was a straw purchase, with the intent of giving the gun to a criminal.”
.Hvin 6WHHlH, firsW DssisWDnW district attorney for Montgomery County, said that the numbers for the county aren’t quite as high as in the city — 239 murders since 1995 and 48 percent of those involved the use of guns — but the number is still far too high and described a recent gun battle in Norristown to illustrate his point.
“Some thugs came from our neighbor, Philadelphia, into Norristown armed to the WHHWh. 7hHrH wDs D JunfiJhW in the streets of Norristown DnG shRWs wHrH firHG inWR D home where small children were sleeping,” he said.
“These were people that shRulG nRW hDvH hDG D firHDrP in WhH firsW SlDcH bHcDusH RI WhHir past history, so once again these are convicted armed felons that we’re dealing with,” he said.