Unlicensed Philly gun owners may soon get ‘special cheese sandwiches’

seth williams john taylor larry farnese
Rikard Larma/Metro. District Attorney Seth Williams flanked by state Rep. John Taylor and state Sen. Larry Farnese.

Officials on Thursday announced a crackdown on illegal gun ownership – and Philadelphia is squarely in their crosshairs.

Two companion bills introduced in the state House by Rep. John Taylor (R-Phila) and the state Senate by Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Phila) would make illegal firearm ownership in Philadelphia a third-degree felony and mandate a two-year minimum jail sentence for offenders.

“It’s like a laser that goes directly at those evildoers,” District Attorney Seth Williams said. “That’s what this legislation does.”

Farnese said it “irks” him that politicians in Harrisburg are always willing to support funding for ammunition, cars and radios – “the tools as they say, so to speak, that law enforcement needs to do their jobs.”

“But I’ll tell you what law enforcement has told us,” he continued.

“That just as important as those pieces of equipment are the legislative tools that they need to do their jobs and to make the streets safer for all of us. That’s exactly what this legislation is combined to do.”

Taylor said the law isn’t a “gun bill” but a “crimefighting tool” desperately needed by Philadelphia police and prosecutors.

“We hear all the time in the gun debate about enforcing the rules we have,” he said. “We are enhancing the rules that already exist.”

When asked whether the Philadelphia prisons system can accommodate more inmates – its population has already swelled due to tougher firearm offenses sentences some local judges are doling out  – Williams said the city will make room.

“We’ll make sure there’s special cheese sandwiches for these people,” he said.

“If you carry a gun illegally, you’re a person that wants to kill my daughters or my aunt. Yes, there will be a place in prison for them for two years.”

Legislators said pushing the bill through won’t be easy, but state Rep. Mark Cohen (D-Phila) – who said he supports the law, but is not currently a cosponsor – marveled at its bipartisan nature and specific scope.

“It’s so narrowly and brilliantly targeted,” he said. “That’s is why it’s a very, very serious legislative proposal with an excellent change of passage.”

Biting the Big Apple

The measure is modeled on a 2005 New York City law creating a three-and-a-half year mandatory minimum sentence for illegal gun ownership.

20%. The drop in NYC’s homicide rate the year after the law’s passage.

414. People were murdered in NYC last year.

65%. Of those homicides were committed with a gun.

334. People were murdered in Philadelphia last year.

85%. Of those homicides were committed with a gun.

Zero. Of Philadelphia’s homicides by gun were committed with a legally obtained and registered firearm, Williams said.


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