D.A. Seth Williams pleads for passage of a bill sponsored by Rep. John Taylor and Sen. Larry Farnese that would make the penalty for illegal gun possession a mandatory two-year minimum as kids look on. Credit: Sam Newhouse/Metro
Legislation to stiffen illegal gun possession penalties waiting to be made law in Harrisburg might have prevented the death of Tynirah Borum, 3, slain by a stray bullet last month.
Borum's alleged shooter, Brandon Ruffin, had been released from prison three weeks prior to the shoot-out where he allegedly fired four shots after an argument on the 1500 block of South Etting Street, after serving 23 months for illegal possession of a gun -- a misdemeanor in Pennsylvania.
Bills introduced in the state house in April 2013 by Rep. John Taylor and senate by Sen. Larry Farnese would have made the mandatory minimum sentence in Philadelphia for this crime two years.
"I don't want to live in a city where 3-year-olds can't sit on a porch on a beautiful summer evening and have their hair braided without being shot and murdered," Williams said.
Some residents of the neighborhood said they support the bill.
"It's crazy. There's way too many murders around here," said neighbor Kenyatta Harris, 34, whose father was shot to death seven months ago.
"I'm glad they came here," said Adriane Whitehead, 26. "We have to live with this."
Williams was joined by Taylor, Farnese and suburban prosecutors at a press conference on Dickinson and Marston streets, around the corner from where Tynirah was killed.
"We all feel a sense of responsibility that something could have been done to prevent this violence," Rep. Taylor said of Tynirah's death. "We could be having this kind of press conference on corner after corner in Philadelphia."
"It does not affect law-abiding citizens," Taylor said of the bill, "but just those criminals who would dare to put a gun in their waistband in the morning and walk out the door."
Farnese said he will fight to ensure the bill remains "clean," without being made part of other amendments or debates.
"I get so crazy when I think about it, that we had the opportunity earlier in this year to possibly prevent that [Tynirah's death,] and we didn't take advantage of it," Farnese said.
Williams said that he has been urging prosecutors to treat illegal gun possession more seriously.
"In Philadelphia, historically, if you got stopped and you had a gun, that crime was almost treated like a joke," Williams said. "People were released on their own recognizance. So now we're asking for $100,000, $200,000 bail if they get stopped with a gun. It's part of how we've reduced gun violence."
House Bill 1091 and Senate Bill 801 would mandate two-year sentences for illegal gun possession.
Out of 153 homicides so far in 2014, 85 percent are by handgun. Only one was caused by a person who lawfully possessed a gun.
The bill has passed favorably out of the House of Representatives judiciary committee but is awaiting an up-and-down vote.