Philadelphia Metropolis


It's Not Either/Or on Guns

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By Phil Goldsmith

One of the problems in discussing the gun problem that impacts so much of our society -- from urban streets to small towns to even NBA locker rooms -- is that people want to discuss solutions as if they are mutually exclusive.

Pro-gun, anti-gun. Pro Second Amendment, anti-Second Amendment. Pro-enforcement, pro-gun control.

In his three-part series in Metropolis on Philadelphia's Gun Violence Task Force, Tom Ferrick has shown how good enforcement can make a dent in the illegal gun trade.

At CeaseFirePA, we are strong supporters of such measures. But we also advocate for better handgun safeguards in Pennsylvania, where our lax gun laws make it too easy for weapons to get in the wrong hands.

We aren't pro-gun or anti-gun. We are for safer communities and believe that both tougher enforcement and closing loopholes in our gun laws are compatible solutions.

Did you know that a terrorist on the government's watch list could walk into any gun shop in Pennsylvania and walk out with as many weapons as he can pay for as long as he doesn't have a criminal record? We don't believe that makes sense -- or makes us safer.

But we also believe that there should be more Gun Violence Task Forces established throughout the Commonwealth. Philadelphia is not the only jurisdiction suffering from too many illegal guns, shootings and homicides. Many cities in Pennsylvania suffer from the same problem. That is why more than 150 mayors throughout the state are members of Mayors Against Illegal Guns and work closely with us.


Spread the good work

What's lacking with the Gun Task Force is the money to make it even more effective and to replicate it in other jurisdictions. As the state's budget woes increased, the amount of money for the Task Force was slashed, so it remains a Philadelphia-only initiative.

More money for more task forces throughout the state should be a campaign issue for gubernatorial candidates this year as they come asking for our money and votes

As these candidates travel around the state, they should also know there is a sea change underway in Pennsylvania on the gun issue. No longer is it an issue to shy away from because of fear of the National Rifle Association. Remember that the NRA poured millions of dollars into the state in 2008 in a last-ditch attempt to defeat Barack Obama in his Presidential bid.  It failed miserably.  Obama won by double digits in a state he described, in an unguarded moment, as "clinging" to its guns

And CeaseFirePA is going toe-to-toe with the NRA in local communities and beating it as we seek passage of laws that require handgun owners to tell the police when they know their guns have been lost or stolen. 

Since CeaseFirePA started its local lost-and-stolen campaign about a year ago, 23 municipalities have approved such a measure -- not just large cities like Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, but also Allentown, Reading, Norristown, Erie, Harrisburg, Lancaster, York Aliquippa, Munhall, Braddock and Wilkinsburg, to name a few..


Common-sense measures

In West Mifflin Township in Western Pennsylvania, protestors came to a City Council meeting with their guns packed on their hips. Still, the Council voted 6-1 to pass a measure requiring their citizens to let the police know if and when their handguns have been lost or stolen.

And why not? 

Our public opinion polls reveal that 96 percent of Pennsylvanians favor such a common- sense measure. A recent national poll conducted by Frank Luntz, a conservative pollster, reported that 78 percent of NRA members and 88 percent of gun owners were also in favor.

Still, our representatives in Harrisburg haven't acted yet to make this a statewide requirement. They're slow learners, but are starting to get the message from their constituents in towns across the state.

The majority of citizens want common-sense measures, whether it be tougher enforcement and collaboration among local, federal and state law enforcement officials or better gun safeguards, such as requiring the reporting of guns when lost or stolen.

Crime and homicides are trending down in Philadelphia, but we still have a long way to go. Hopefully, the Gun Task Force will receive more money to enhance its work. In the meantime, let's keep our eye on New York City. Its population is more than 500 percent  larger than ours but its homicide rate is only 55 percent greater.

Its 2009, the homicide rate in New York City reached the lowest since it has recorded such numbers. It has dropped nearly 30 percent since 2001 even as the size of its police department has shrunk from 40,800 to 34,000 cops.

New York's solution?   Much tougher gun laws, better enforcement and a fetish for attacking the illegal, straw gun market. They don't view these strategies as mutually exclusive but as compatible.

Now, if our Pennsylvania lawmakers would worry more about Punxsutawney Phil's shadow than the one cast by the NRA we could accomplish in Pennsylvania what New York is getting done when it comes to gun violence.


Phil Goldsmith is the President of the Board of CeaseFirePA.



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