Republicans should take the lead to stop illegal gun sales

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross.

It took the 2012 murder of a Plymouth Meeting police officer to break the chokehold the gun lobby has on Pennsylvania's legislators. They passed the Brad Fox Law after its namesake was gunned down by a man who bought a gun from a straw buyer.

These are often profiteers who buy guns from legitimate sources and sell them to criminals who cannot legally purchase guns. No good comes from this arrangement, but the gun industry's minions in the legislature constantly oppose efforts to stop the practice.

Police Commissioner Richard Ross has cited the flood of illegal guns as a major factor in the city's outrageously high shooting rate. In 2016, police reported 2,257 aggravated assaults with guns, making shootings a major health crisis in the city.

But concerned leaders don't even look to Harrisburg for help because Pennsylvania's legislators seem more interested in enabling the bloodshed than stopping it.

Sometimes, though, there are small victories of common sense over the gun industry's greed.

In Delaware County, District Attorney Jack Whelan is aggressively fighting illegal guns. Last week, he charged a sixth person with violating gun laws. He's already convicted the other five. Whelan is showing that the Brad Fox Law can be a powerful tool in the hands of a smart prosecutor.

Before the law, straw buyers would face little more than a year in jail. Now, second offenders face five to 10-year sentences. But as good as the sentencing law is, it only tinkers around the edges of Pennsylvania's out-of-control illegal gun trade.

Pennsylvania also needs laws that take aim at the gun shops frequented by straw buyers, and the state should impose a limit on how many guns a person can buy. One a month should be more than enough. Harrisburg just shrugged.

Philadelphia just endured a bloody Easter weekend in which 21 people were shot. Four died. Police had not gotten far enough along in their investigations to learn if illegal guns were involved, but it's a safe bet that in some cases they were.

The legislature released a bill Wednesday from the Senate Education Committee that would allow people legally carry guns in schools, as if schools aren't dangerous enough. Meanwhile efforts to close the loophole that lets people buy rifles, shotguns, and semi-automatics without background checks remains stalled.

Even worse, another committee Wednesday released a bill that enables straw purchases. It allows the National Rifle Association to sue towns that pass ordinances requiring gun owners to report when their guns are lost or stolen.

When police find a gun at a crime scene, they try to trace it to its last buyer. Without a record, though, police say they have little recourse when a straw buyer lies and says the gun he sold was lost or stolen.

Given their control of the legislature, Republicans should take the lead to fix Pennsylvania's gun laws. State Rep. Marcie Topel who sponsored the Brad Fox Law, and State Sen. John Rafferty (both R., Montgomery), who deserves credit for helping to get it passed, should team up again, if they have the courage, to prevent some of the blood spilled from gun violence every day.