Officer's death should spur gun-law action

Moses Walker may have suspected two men walking behind him, along Cecil B. Moore Avenue in North Philadelphia, were trouble.

A camera caught the off-duty police officer looking over his shoulder a few times after he finished his shift early Saturday morning. The eerie, grainy video shows Walker taking what must have been his final steps before turning a corner into the area where he was fatally shot. Walker’s unused gun was found under his body, an indication that he pulled it but didn’t have time to fire on his assailants.

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Officer Moses Walker

A cop killing is especially frightening because it means that even a trained police officer with a weapon may not be safe walking along a dark, lonely street. It means, as Commissioner Charles Ramsey noted, and most Philadelphians know, that anyone is vulnerable in a violent city.

Unfortunately, lawmakers in Harrisburg must not know much, because they have steadfastly refused to pass legislation making it tougher to buy guns, which would help a city that has already had 230 homicides this year, including the murder of Officer Walker. Most of the homicides were committed with guns that were readily available even to someone with a criminal record.

Not only have legislators turned down assault-weapons bans, but they are considering a bill that would kill local ordinances in 48 municipalities that require legal gun owners to report lost and stolen guns.

Legislators have refused to clamp down on straw gun purchasers, who buy guns legally only to resell them to criminals. They have also failed to close the “Florida loophole,” which allows a person to carry a concealed gun in Pennsylvania even if his only permit is from another state.

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And despite a 2007 federal requirement, Pennsylvania has yet to give the National Instant Criminal Background Check System the records of 500,000 people with mental illnesses who are barred from buying a handgun.

In the absence of legislative support, the CeaseFire PA anti-gun group, police, and city District Attorney’s Office have persuaded residents to testify at sentencing hearings about the fear of living in neighborhoods where thugs openly brandish weapons.

Civic groups, the city, and the police union are offering $118,000 in rewards for information leading to the arrest and conviction of Walker’s killers. In these embattled communities, though, potential witnesses should think past the money and consider that finding Walker’s assailants will make the city safer for everyone.

The 40-year-old policeman was killed after finishing his shift at the 22d District. Family, fellow officers, friends, and members of his church recalled him as gentle and humble. “My son served. He served everybody,” said his mother, Wayne Walker. “He served his city. He served his family. He served his nieces and nephews.”

Officer Walker now serves as a reminder that Harrisburg must free itself from the National Rifle Association’s grip and pass legislation that could help Pennsylvania’s cities control gun violence.

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