State authority to prosecute gun crimes may expand in Philadelphia

State authority to prosecute gun crimes may expand in Philadelphia

April 19, 2022 0 By Anthony Hennen

As Philadelphia struggles to contain a rising number of murders within the city in recent years, the General Assembly may expand the state’s ability to prosecute illegal gun possession.

HB2275, introduced by Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, would renew a pilot program granting the attorney general’s office concurrent jurisdiction with a district attorney’s office, effectively allowing the attorney general to take up gun-related crime cases.

“Among other provisions, the legislation gives the attorney general authority to prosecute straw purchases of firearms in Philadelphia. It also grants the attorney general jurisdiction to prosecute the illegal possession of firearms by previously convicted felons and others in Philadelphia,” White said in a memo. “It is imperative that our laws are upheld and violators are brought to justice, and that we stem the tide of violence in our communities. Every avenue that can help save lives must be explored.”

So far this year, Philadelphia has 140 homicides, according to the Office of the Controller. While that is a 5% decrease from 2021, the city’s 562 homicides last year was the highest on record, surpassing even 1990, when there were 500.

The lack of prosecutions for illegal guns in the city has been a growing problem in recent years, White argued.

“It is already both a state and federal crime for a previously convicted felon to be in possession of a gun. In 2021, police made more than 3,000 arrests for illegal gun possession, the most ever recorded in Philadelphia,” White said. “Yet, people accused of illegally carrying guns have seen their chances of getting convicted in court plunge from 63% in 2017 to 49% two years later.”

Rep. Craig Williams, R-Delaware/Chester, a former federal prosecutor and co-sponsor of HB2275, ensured that $1.5 million in the state budget would fund new prosecutors in Philadelphia and Delaware Counties.

“Under my plan, the new prosecutors would work as deputized federal prosecutors, exclusively prosecuting felon-in-possession crimes federally under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Justice through the federal Project Safe Neighborhoods program,” Williams said.

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