Like many cities in the United States, Philadelphia has seen an increase in homicides. In a recent report, Larry Krasner (Philadelphia District Attorney), a reform-minded Democrat questions two common solutions to the problem. He recommends that the supply be restricted, which is a popular strategy, while he also suggests prosecuting those who have illegally obtained firearms. This approach has bipartisan support. Krasner argues that this latter option is not only ineffective, but also unjustified and discriminatory racially.
Krasner isn’t expressing dismay at “awash” in guns, but rather because he doesn’t believe that gun control is possible or is anxious about protecting the Second Amendment rights. These conclusions are based upon the modest benefits and significant costs of two popular strategies for fighting crime.
Krasner’s Office, Philadelphia Police Department and Philadelphia Department of Public Health collaborated to create the report. In the report’s “key findings”, they make shocking statements about criminals accessing guns and the consequences of these measures.
According to the report, “Addressing gun supply has little impact because of a number of reasons.” First, Pennsylvania is an important source state for guns and supplies most of the guns that are used in Philadelphia. Second, the majority of guns that are used or recovered today were purchased long before the present gun violence crisis.
According to the report, data shows that it’s absurd to believe that limiting gun sales or seizing guns will make them more available to criminals. There were 400,000 guns sold in Pennsylvania in 2000, but that number has increased to 1,000,000 in 2020. This does not take into account firearms purchased on the black market. Between 1999 and 2020, the total was nearly 13 million. That’s an average daily number of over 1,600. In Philadelphia and in four other nearby counties, the daily average was 227.
On average, 22 guns were seized by Pennsylvania police each day. Philadelphia police accounted for 55 percent of that total—12 guns a day.
Krasner describes the implications of this report in his section. Compounding the problem, in Philadelphia, only 1 in 4 recovered ‘crime guns’ were purchased in Philadelphia…and only half of crime guns seized by law enforcement statewide were purchased in Pennsylvania; the rest were purchased out of state or have no known origin.”
Guns used for criminal purposes are often in widespread circulation for many years. According to the report, 60% of tracked guns had a time period greater than three years from their original purchase. This reality means that there is less value to tracing the origin of the gun (first purchase) than if it was traced. You may have the gun changed multiple times legally or not.
An analysis of 100 shooting cases in this report reveals that none of them were purchased from licensed dealers. This is consistent with research that has been done on firearms used by criminals. Expanded background checks and legal restrictions regarding gun sales (such as increased background checks) do little to reduce these main sources. This is because they don’t have an impact on the people already in violation of law.
Krasner said that with so many guns on the market, Krasner believes that a law enforcement strategy that prioritizes local seizing of guns does not reduce their supply. He also noted, “An increasing number of pedestrian and vehicle stops could lead to counterproductive results by alienating communities it is meant to aid.” According to Krasner, “people of color in Philadelphia are stopped and taken into custody for illegally possessing guns in Philadelphia as well as statewide.” Around 80 percent are arrested in Philadelphia because of illegal gun possession. This is despite the fact that they represent 44% of Philadelphia’s residents.
Krasner writes that “focusing so much resources on the removal of guns from street corners while there is a continuous supply of guns available is unlikely to end gun violence but it does erode trust in the system and the perceived legitimacy” of the system. This decreases people’s willingness to cooperate in the criminal justice system.
Krasner points out an unusual aspect of Pennsylvania law, which adds to the disparate racially charged impact of gun possession arrests. Carrying a concealed weapon with no license in Pennsylvania is a first-degree offense. This can lead to up to five years imprisonment and/or a $10,000 maximum fine. Philadelphians can be charged with an additional misdemeanor for the same offense. According to a local law firm, the combined charges are almost always categorized as a felony. This means that defendants without a criminal history may face significant jail time.
Krasner points that Philadelphia residents are allowed to carry firearms without licenses. “The exact same offense in every other county in Pennsylvania (carrying a firearm without a permit to carry) is only a misdemeanor offense….The legislature’s decision to more punitively criminalize
There are more consequences for residents in the largest city, which is clearly racist and inequitable. Krasner says that such a policy is based on “the money, power, and privileges upstate legislators have by incarcerating Philadelphians within their prisons.” He condemned “a commerce between the bodies of Philadelphians in state prisons who do things that are not crimes in their jurisdictions.”
This arbitrary distinction can be difficult to accept, even if it’s not something you believe in. It gets worse. Pennsylvanians who have felony convictions (including drug crimes) can carry a firearm without a license. This makes them a third degree felony. They face up to 7 years imprisonment and a maximum penalty of $15,000 fine. The mere possession of a gun can be a felony. This could lead to five to ten years imprisonment and a maximum penalty of $25,000.
Krasner notes that some criminals are dangerous to public safety. Others, however, may just be trying to defend their homes in unsafe neighborhoods. Gun possession arrests must be made to differentiate between gun-violent gun owners and law-abiding citizens who do not engage in gun violence. He notes that people may not perceive the danger of illegal guns being confiscated by police as greater than the possibility of them being found on the streets with one.
Are there other strategies that can be used to control gun violence? There were 501 and 1850 fatalities and injuries in Philadelphia last year. Yet, the clearance rates of such criminal acts in Philadelphia are shockingly low, at 37 percent and 18% respectively for 2020. “9,042 shots
According to the report, 6,910 people were still unacquitted of crimes committed between 2015 and 2020 in Philadelphia. Krasner notes that arrests were made in only 28% of fatal shootings for 2021 and 17% of non-fatal shootings. This should be an urgent priority.
There are several suggestions in the report to help achieve this goal, such as a “centralized non-fatal shooter investigation team” within police departments, greater support for victims, witnesses and data-driven approaches towards crime and safety. According to the data available, there are several prevention and intervention options that look promising.
The public defenders group cited one example: “Increasing reliance on civil responders to resolve conflict before violence escalates is a promising national policy and especially promising for Philadelphia, where ‘arguments are’ reportedly one the major drivers of shootings. It was from this point that half of all the 100 shootings in the report were started. A mere one-fifth (25%) of shootings were drug related, which is a reflection on the effect that prohibition has on violence in urban areas. One-fifth of the shootings involved domestic violence.
Philadelphia’s report suggests that other cities might have misguided their crime-fighting strategies. John Pfaff (Fordham University Law Professor) notes this in SlateEric Adams, New York City’s Mayor, plans to aggressively pursue guns. He will increase detection at state entry points, expand funding for New York Police Department’s Gun Violence Suppression Division, work more closely with FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BOTFE) to track guns, and invest in surveillance technology to identify illegal firearms. Adams also “promises to revive the NYPD’s undercover ‘anti-crime units’—disbanded in 2020 amid concerns about unconstitutional stops and excessive violence—and rechristen them ‘Neighborhood Safety Teams,’ deploying 400 to 500 officers on the streets to focus on ‘gun removals.'”
Is this a sensible approach given the Philadelphia report’s facts? Pfaff disagrees. Pfaff says that the report shows that gun violence “is much more complex than Adam’s blueprint suggests”. He believes that a focus on the problem of gun violence would be a better approach. Violence more than the guns.”
AtlanticConor Friedersdorf, a spokesman for the senate notes that gun cases “pull progressives in opposing directions.” They favor strict gun-control laws, which are common in liberal jurisdictions. However, he said that they also strongly criticize laws that give long prison sentences to men of color. This is contrary to reformers’ desire for mass incarceration reduction. The same tension was evident in my recent ReasonStory about gun control’s racism roots and dissimilar impact.
Friedersdorf explains the dilemma facing progressive prosecutors as follows: “Which D.A. should it? opposed to racial inequity prioritize—the disproportionate rate at which Black and Latino residents are arrested for possessing firearms, or the disproportionate burden gun violence and deaths impose on those same communities?” But if gun possession arrests are not a very effective way to reduce violent crime (especially when they fail to distinguish between “drivers of gun violence” and “otherwise law-abiding people”), this puzzle is not as hard to solve as it might seem.
Based on evidence, cities must decide which strategies offer the best value for money. Without a high chance of success, putting more resources and staff into strategies is a waste. Strategies that could work are less likely to succeed. Cops who are too busy arresting self-defense arm users, or seizing guns, will have less time for violent criminals to be arrested. Republicans have framed the problem as a “hard-or-soft” issue. This is not a question of being dumb or smart.