Must go after straw buyers to reduce gun violence in Philly

Pastor Clarence E. Wright outside the Love Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.

Memorial Day couldn’t end without yet another gun death in Philadelphia. A 14-year-old boy was killed in a double shooting in Kensington, but the city took little notice.

Philadelphia has become inured to gun violence. That was evident last week when three people were shot and killed in a 24-hour period. It was evident on May 20, when nine people were shot, two critically, at an outdoor graduation party.

“It’s sad,” the Rev. Clarence E. Wright, pastor of Love Zion Baptist Church in North Philadelphia, told staff writers Stephanie Farr and Chris Palmer. “There’s so much violence around the area, to hear of a shooting is unfortunately not out of the ordinary.”

Mayor Kenney rightly blames the easy access to guns, many obtained illegally through straw purchases. The city needs to be more aggressive in using the Brad Fox Law, which was enacted in 2013 to stop people from buying guns for felons who can’t.

Delaware County officials have used the law named for a slain Montgomery County policeman to prosecute at least six people. In one case, a Chester woman charged with buying nine guns that she sold illegally to her nephew, a convicted felon, faces a minimum mandatory sentence of five years in prison.

Another Delaware County woman was sentenced to 6 to 12 years for buying guns for her boyfriend and another man, both felons. The boyfriend was shot and killed in August 2013. The other man was arrested on drug charges with the gun the woman had purchased. But his sentence of 3 to 6 years was less than what she received.

Delaware County District Attorney John Whelan said most illegal guns on the street used in violent crimes came from straw purchasers.

A study by the Journal of Urban Health concluded that women are disproportionately involved in the sale of guns that end up in the hands of criminals. Another study by Criminal Justice Policy Review found that most guns sold and quickly used in a crime were purchased by minority women.

Operation Lipstick (Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killing) wants to help women say no to the men in their lives who get them to become straw buyers.

Nancy Robinson, Lipstick’ executive director, said many women succumb to pressure by a boyfriend, brother, or friend to buy guns for them. “They’re not connecting the dots and understanding that it’s these guns that are turned on themselves, their children, and their neighbor’s children,” she said.

Raising the level of public awareness about the link between straw purchasers and gun violence is another way Philadelphia could curb the daily shootings. More broadly, city leaders must work together to create a more comprehensive, sustained approach to the problem. Accepting daily shootings as a fact of life isn’t the answer.