Editorial | No single solution

If a newspaper editorial could have a volume knob, this one would be turned up as loud as possible to cut through the roar of misinformation about how to reduce gun violence.

The destructive din includes this false - repeat, false premise: Gun control is the single cure needed for the plague of shootings in Philadelphia and other cities across the state and country.

May that premise crumble under the weight of its inaccuracy - and its speakers' dangerously narrow vision.

Philadelphia had seen 108 homicides committed this year as of 11:59 p.m. yesterday, according to police. About 80 percent of those murders involved handguns. There were 94 homicides in Philadelphia for the same period in 2006.

There is a persistent percussion of shootings in some neighborhoods that figures out to an average of five per day this year. Most often, no one dies.

The increase in gun violence comes from a tangle of causes and conditions that requires a comprehensive set of governmental, community and personal efforts.

Parents are the first line of defense. They must not indulge the culture of violence and intimidation that sucks in generation after generation of youngsters and turns crime witnesses into mutes.

The circle widens into the community for an alternative to that culture that includes better schools and more economic development. Spell it J-O-B-S.

It widens all the way to Harrisburg. A smart strategy does require state lawmakers to side with law-abiding citizens and pass laws aimed at keeping guns out of criminals' hands.

A majority of Pennsylvanians would accept a purchase limit of one handgun per person per month, according to a new poll. Yet lawmakers resist enacting that or even the logical requirement that all stolen or lost guns - which often are used in crimes - must be reported to police.

The argument given by gun-rights absolutists, one expressed recently by those who successfully challenged the District of Columbia's gun-control law in court, is that purchase limits do not end fatal shootings.

There's that false premise again. No one looking at the issue sensibly believes gun control alone is the cureall. Different policies and practices chip away at different parts of the problem.

The public should be hearing about an aggressive review of Police Department tactics, including how officers are deployed and whether police need more training on documenting gun crimes. That evidence must be accurate to make sure the guilty are convicted.

Why aren't more mayoral candidates talking as much about hiring more probation officers as they are about adding police? Since most of the city's homicide victims and their assailants had criminal backgrounds, probation and parole officers could have a huge impact on reducing violence. But more are needed to keep track of former inmates.

Where is the public debate, from the governor's mansion to the legislature to City Hall, on relieving overcrowded prisons and improving programs that help ex-prisoners avoid returning to a life of violence and crime?

Part of the problem with Philadelphia's response to this spike in homicides is that it reflects the worst characteristics of how this city operates. If politicians holding summits provided a layer of protection, Philadelphians would be the safest people in the country.

Mayor Street has had his summit. U.S. Rep. Bob Brady and State Rep. Dwight Evans, both Democratic candidates to succeed Street, have had their summits. Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has duly but dully attended them.

Still, no one - not Street, not Johnson, not District Attorney Lynne M. Abraham - seems in charge of a broad and deep crime-fighting operation that engages the city and region.

As with so many of Philadelphia's other challenges, there is no visible, vibrant leader taking charge. Mayoral candidates are all trying to persuade Philadelphians that they are that leader for tomorrow. Unfortunately, the violence goes on today.