Hear­ing held on state’s gun laws

North Penn Life - - News - By Dan Sokil dsokil@jour­nal­reg­is­ter.com

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.

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