Allison Steele and Amy Worden, Philadelphia Inquirer
On a day when Connecticut and Maryland legislators ushered in historic new gun laws, a bipartisan lineup of Pennsylvania legislators and law enforcement officials put forth a bill that would slap an added mandatory two-year prison term on anyone caught with an illegal firearm – but only in Philadelphia.
“This is not about gun control,” Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams said Thursday, flanked by politicians and officials from the city and suburbs. “People who carry guns illegally are the people who are shooting people, murdering people, pistol-whipping people, threatening witnesses. . . . We need a game-changer here in Philadelphia.”
Democratic State Sen. Larry Farnese, who cosponsored the bill with Republican Rep. John Taylor, said the city that both men represent is in the throes of “an epidemic of gun violence” and that law enforcement agencies have long requested stricter gun laws.
“No more BS,” Farnese said. “No more screwing around. . . . This has to happen.”
Taylor described the bill as “a crime-fighting tool” and said he and Farnese would work to get it to Gov. Corbett’s desk as soon as possible.
Two suburban Republican district attorneys, Montgomery County’s Risa Vetri Ferman and Delaware County’s John Whelan, both supported the bill, saying that criminals arrested in their counties often committed earlier gun crimes in Philadelphia.
“I have no doubt that a safer Philadelphia is a safer Delaware County,” Whelan said.
State Sen. Stewart Greenleaf, Republican chairman of the judiciary committee, said Thursday that he supports the idea of increasing the grading of the crime from a misdemeanor to a third-degree felony, but has concerns about the application of mandatory minimums.
“We need to do something about the issue of violent crime in Philadelphia,” said Greenleaf, whose committee will review the bill. “But generally, I don’t support mandatory minimum sentences, because they are difficult to apply. You can have an egregious straw purchaser with 20 guns sales on the one hand, or someone whose license to carry has expired and is otherwise an upstanding citizen getting the mandatory minimum.”
Williams said Thursday that the bill targets only those who buy or possess guns illegally.