Friday, December 26, 2014

People's Board hosts debate on gun laws

This is an opinion of the Daily News People's Editorial Board, a group of 10 citizens who gather to debate hot topics in the city. To weigh in, go to www.philly.com/blogs/peb.

People's Board hosts debate on gun laws

This is an opinion of the Daily News People's Editorial Board, a group of 10 citizens who gather to debate hot topics in the city. To weigh in, go to www.philly.com/blogs/peb.

Rashi Anderson should have turned 18 today. But he didn't get the chance. A few weeks ago, this promising young man was gunned down a block from his house in East Germantown. There is no known motive, and no arrests have been made.

We are 46 days into the new year, and 48 people have already been killed. That puts our homicide rate 10 percent above this time last year and higher even than in 2007, when the city had almost 400 homicides.

For the Daily News People's Board, this violence is not something happening in some other neighborhood, to other people. It has touched many of us personally. But we knew going in that this was going to be a tough issue. Debates about guns usually fall into one of two sides: strict pro-gun or strong gun-control. A middle ground is hard to reach. Obviously, given that gun-related homicides remain a problem, the old arguments have gotten us nowhere. We started this conversation by asking the question: Can we reduce the violence in Philadelphia by changing gun laws? If so, what changes would help?

We invited two speakers: Bryan Miller, of Heeding God's Call, a gun-violence-prevention group; and National Rifle Association board member Bob Viden Sr., owner of Bob's Little Sport Shop, in Glassboro (video below!).

Miller says that gun laws make a difference. New Jersey has stricter gun laws than Pennsylvania, including one that limits gun purchasers to one handgun a month. He believes that is why our neighbors in New Jersey have less gun violence than we do in Pennsylvania.

Viden says that gun laws target primarily legal buyers and sellers, who don't generally commit the types of gun crimes ravaging Philadelphia. He believes that Philly's problem is that there are too many people on the street with felony convictions and that they should be in jail.

This is a divisive issue, and our discussion reflected that. So have our conclusions. Instead of a consensus, we offer our individual responses to the question about what changes in gun laws might help:

Tom Sexton: There is no need for further firearm laws in Philadelphia. The problem in Philadelphia is recidivism. We should (1) keep criminals in jail who commit crimes with firearms, and (2) allow all citizens to protect themselves with right-to-carry laws. As long as we focus on an object, the firearm, and not the person pulling the trigger, the violence in Philadelphia will continue.

Kermit Newkirk: We need to stop worrying about Second Amendment rights, and worry instead about the right to life of many young people in this city. The slight inconvenience of reasonable regulations, such as one-gun-a-month, is a tiny price to pay for getting even a few illegal guns off the street if it means saving a young person's life.

Betty Turner: Let's make sure gun laws are being enforced, arrests made and convictions upheld.

Charles Herndon: Straw purchasers should not be able to hide behind claims that their guns were lost or stolen. Let's have statewide required reporting of lost or stolen guns, and if you don't report that your gun has gone missing, you can be subject to a punishment.

Michael Kubacki: We must try to get emotion out of our gun debates by demanding hard data and rigorous analysis on measures that have been enacted elsewhere. If they have worked, fine; but if not, we must shun demagogues who insist on enacting laws (like one-gun- a-month, for example) that may sound good but have zero effect on gun crime.

Glenn Kutler: Identify criminals' points of access to guns and tighten the regulations around them. One point of access may be private citizens who purchase multiple guns at a time, then turn around and sell them on the street. Limiting purchases to one handgun a month at shops within a 10-mile buffer zone around Philadelphia would prevent this. 

Angela Pote: Public-service announcements should warn the public that if you get caught committing a gun crime, you'll be caught and convicted - and face serious consequences. But I do not think that changing or adding gun laws will help stem Philadelphia's violence.

Jamira Burley: Pass the Fix Gun Checks Act, which would help close two loopholes in the background-check system that make it possible for dangerous people like Jared Lee Loughner (the Tucson shooter of Gabrielle Giffords) to buy a gun. It would increase penalties for states and federal agencies that fail to enter records on prohibited purchasers into the National Instant Background Check System, known as (NICS). These are people who are already prohibited from buying guns, but can still pass a background check. It would also require that all gun sales, including those by private sellers, be subject to a background check. 

We do have one point of consensus: Philadelphia's future is in peril if a good kid like Rashi Anderson can be killed on the street here for no reason. This has to stop.

About this blog
Every year, city government spends slightly more than $4 billion. Where does all that money come from? More importantly, where does it go? Are we getting the most bang for our tax buck? “It's Our Money” is a joint project between Philadelphia Daily News and WHYY, funded by the William Penn Foundation, designed to answer these questions.

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