Philadelphia’s 2005 homicide rate has already surpassed last year’s count of 330, and we still have December left.
Can we feel safe on the streets of Philadelphia or is that memory gone forever? The city had its highest homicide rate of 500 murders in 1990 and throughout most of the decade there were around 400 homicides a year. Not until 2002 did the city finally hit a 17-year low of 288 homicides.
Learning these facts, I couldn’t believe that I was surrounded by so much death. I never felt that I had to worry about my own safety in that way – catching the wrong set of eyes crossing the street, walking back to my car after dark or even fumbling for my keys at the doorstep of my house.
I became acquainted with this realization this summer when a friend of mine was shot to death in his own bedroom, right off of Temple’s campus.
“Kid’s rule the streets and people can’t even sit on their own front steps,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham at her election night press conference.
Abraham is one of the many advocates of gun control in the city. Last year, Abraham and her partners created a gun court to ensure that gun offenders remain in jail. Moreover, Abraham provided that people who commit their first gun-related crime will be put into a program where they will be rigorously supervised. The city is also getting an $800,000 state grant that will pay for more detectives to investigate gun violations.
Even with all of these restrictions and regulations, I still felt weary about gun safety in Philadelphia. I went over to Colosimo’s Pistol Range (10th and Spring Garden streets) to test a weapon out for myself.
I figured that the more knowledgeable I was about guns, the better my chances would be if I ever encountered one.
Under Pennsylvania state law, a person can legally buy a firearm and keep it within the state limits if he or she is at least 21 years old, has proof of identification, no criminal arrests or crimes pending and no previous mental history. I, however, was only renting one for the day.
The feeling was amazing. I had never fired a gun before, and I felt as if I were reliving a childhood dream of mine – to be Rambo or Snake Plissken. Yet while ‘locked and loaded,’ I felt a chilling sense of morbid reality.
There wasn’t much stopping me from accidentally hurting myself. Once my clip was in, the gun was live to fire. I knew that I had to be extremely careful in placing each one of my shots.
Then, John Jones, a worker at the pistol range, said something to me that made it all seem so clear: “Guns are not the problem. People are the problem. Responsible people use guns responsibly. Irresponsible people use guns irresponsibly.”
When guns become commonplace in back alley fights and schoolyard altercations, that’s when they become an issue. Guns alone cannot commit a crime or produce a homicide.
They are inanimate objects that hold no grudges, are unbiased and ultimately have no say at who they are being aimed at. Too many people make guns the mediator in settling everyday issues.
Hopefully, with more police presence on the streets and stricter laws on gun-related crimes, the city of Philadelphia may one day overcome its dark track record.
Fred Frenzel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.