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Pennsylvania Democrats fiddle while Philly burns

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Few people would deny that the City of Brotherly Love has a serious issue with crime. Philadelphia had more than 500 homicides last year, and lesser crimes are soaring as well, with police already recording more car thefts in the first four months of the year than the entirety of 2019.

Instead of focusing on those criminal offenders or the policies of D.A. Larry Krasner, who’s overall conviction rate for violent crimes stood at just 33% last year, the Democrats now in control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives are intent on pushing a series of gun control measures aimed at legal gun owners; a waste of time, energy, and ultimately human lives given the ineffective and/or unconstitutional nature of their proposals and the fact that the bills are likely going nowhere in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats advanced four gun-control bills in Pennsylvania’s state House of Representatives on Wednesday, after years of a virtual standstill on legislation amid a politically divided government.

The bills passed through committee on party lines. They could go before the full House as early as next week.

… The package of four bills includes one to require long-barreled firearms to be sold with trigger locks. A second requires gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm to police within three days. Repeat offenders would face a misdemeanor charge.

A third bill would expand background checks on firearms buyers in Pennsylvania and end an exception for private sales of shotguns, sporting rifles and semi-automatic rifles, known as the “gun show” loophole.

The fourth, a so-called red flag bill, would allow a judge to order authorities to temporarily seize firearms from someone if asked by family members or police. Nineteen states have similar laws, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, an anti-gun violence organization.

Democrats have a one-seat advantage in the House, so it’s unclear whether any of these bills will even get to the Republican-led Senate when the come up for a vote, but party leaders seem intent on “doing something” with their slim majority, and passing the first gun control bills in several years will allow them to pat themselves on the back. It just won’t make Philadelphians any safer.

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported last year, back when the GOP still had control of the House, a committee investigating Krasner’s handling of criminal cases found some major issues when it comes to criminals and illegal gun possession or use.

Under Krasner, the House report last month said, the conviction rate has been falling year to year, in “a troubling trend.” Citing data from the District Attorney’s Office, the report found that only 30% of all offenses were dismissed or withdrawn in 2016, but that the failure rate increased to 50% in 2019, 54% in 2020, and 67% in 2021. The rate is 65% this year.

According to the DA’s Data Dashboard, the trend was the same for violent crimes. The dashboard reports that about 45% of defendants charged with the four most serious violent crimes were found guilty between 2016 and 2018, but that fell to 34% in 2019 and 29% in 2020 and 2021. The rate has improved to 33% so far this year.

… The House committee, in its report, also zeroed in on gun-possession cases. The documents it made public included a study from the Delaware Valley Intelligence Center, an interagency facility funded by the federal government and the city to bring together law enforcement officials. The committee also cited a June study of gun cases by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing. The studies, as well as an Inquirer analysis last year, all found that conviction rates declining since Krasner took office.

The Intelligence Center report was critical of the trend.

“This implies that, even when criminals are caught with a gun, they are swiftly finding out they may not receive as significant a consequence as they had historically,” the study said. “Notably, the likelihood of being arrested is low to begin with. This means that criminals know that their likelihood of getting caught with a gun is slim and, even if they get caught, they feel that they can leave without severe (or any) consequences.”

None of the bills advanced by the House committee will do anything to change that. Instead, they seek to turn crime victims into offenders if they fail to report the theft of their firearms or sell a shotgun to their neighbor without driving to the nearest gun store to put them through a background check first. We’ve discussed the flaws in “red flag” legislation in the past, but given that most of the violent crime in Philadelphia is being done by individuals who can’t legally possess a firearm to begin with a “red flag” law would be of little help regardless of its constitutionality.

While House Democrats dither with their anti-gun legislation, violent criminals are walking the streets of Philadelphia unafraid of what the law might do to them if they’re caught with a firearm. Curtailing the right to keep and bear arms is clearly a bigger priority for them than combatting violent crime, and it will be the peaceable residents of Philadelphia who’ll pay the price for Democrats myopic focus on restricting the rights of the law-abiding instead of cracking down on violent and repeat offenders.

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