While the repercussions of most students’ weekends of partying are only temporary, the results of Ian Hirst-Hermans’ Halloween weekend could be permanent.
Hirst-Hermans, a junior advertising major, reported he was shot in the chest by Richard Dodds, 21, of Audobon, Pa., during the early hours of Oct. 31. Hirst-Hermans, who was at a party on the 2100 block of North 17th Street, said no one invited or was familiar with Dodds, who was bothering Hirst-Hermans’ friends the whole night.
“I ended up getting into a little scuffle with [Dodds],” said Hirst-Hermans, who was advised by the district attorney not to disclose specific details because the case is still open.
“After that, he was kicked out of the party,” Hirst-Hermans added. “About 10 minutes later, we decided to go home, and when we went outside, he was waiting for me with a gun, and he shot me in the chest.”
Hirst-Hermans said while the wound to his chest is healing, he suffers nerve damage to his right hand, which has limited movement. He said doctors are not sure if his hand will fully recover.
Dodds, who had a permit to carry the gun, was charged with aggravated assault, making him one of the 2,375 in Philadelphia in the past year as of Nov. 21, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.
DISTRICTS IN DANGER
Although Hirst-Hermans said his incident wasn’t a neighborhood issue because Dodds was from outside the city, his case isn’t an outlier in terms of gun-related crimes in the area surrounding Main Campus since the beginning of the school year.
On Sept. 24, two juveniles were shot at Broad and Jefferson streets. Roughly three weeks later, on Oct. 15, a 33-year-old man was shot and killed on the 1900 block of North Warnock Street. Two days after Hirst-Hermans was shot, Tony Hale, 25, was found shot in the chest multiple times in a car on the 2000 block of North 11th Street.
According to the Philadelphia Police Department, between Sept. 1 and Nov. 28, there were a total of 213 crimes involving guns in the area between Girard Avenue and Lehigh Avenue, from Front Street to 33rd Street. These perimeters include a majority of the 22nd and 26th districts, the two districts that encompass Temple’s surrounding community.
Of these 213 crimes, there were eight homicides by handgun, 124 robberies that involved a gun and 81 aggravated assaults.
Homicides and aggravated assaults using guns were the only two violent crimes on the rise in Philadelphia since November 2009, with 1 percent and 5 percent increases, respectively.
“It certainly cannot be helpful that the economy is in such poor shape, which reduces the legal labor market opportunities that are available to [young people, who are] disproportionately likely to be involved in violence, as either offenders or victims,” Dr. Jens Ludwig said in an e-mail. Ludwig is a professor of social service administration, law and public policy at the University of Chicago and the author of “Gun Violence: The Real Costs.”
Zachariah Acosta-Davis, a senior English major, said he was robbed at gunpoint by two men who appeared to be between 17 and 18 years old, during the Spring 2009 semester.
Acosta-Davis said he was walking home from the TECH Center at 3 a.m. with two friends on Camac Street between Susquehanna Avenue and Dauphin Street. He said the two men stole his wallet, cell phone and some of his friends’ belongings.
“He had [the gun] pointing in our faces … he would point the gun at me, then point it at the next, constantly switching it,” Acosta-Davis said. “It demonstrated the idea that any teenager can grab a gun and rob anyone.”
But Ludwig said demographics aren’t the only influence on the uptick of gun violence in an urban area.
“Nor is it helpful that the state of government budgets for cities and states all around the country mean that many are scaling back on spending categories that help control crime, such as the number of police on the street,” Ludwig said.
According to the City of Philadelphia Fiscal Year 2010 Obligations General Fund, $522 million in funding is allocated to the PPD, comprising 13.6 percent of the city’s 2010 FY operating budget – $2 million less than the 2009 FY.
The PPD is also the fourth largest police department in the United States, consisting of 6,600 sworn members with an additional 800 civilian personnel, trailing the New York, Chicago and Los Angeles police departments, as the first, second and third, respectively.
According to Pennsylvania state law, individuals are required to have either a License to Carry Firearms or a permit issued by another state honored by Pennsylvania to carry a concealed firearm. If a person is caught carrying a firearm anywhere other than in his or her home or place of business without a valid permit, he or she could be charged with committing a third-degree felony.
The rigorous process of applying for a LTC, which is valid for five years, through the Gun Permits & Tracking Unit of the Philadelphia Police Department will deny minors, convicted felons, domestic abusers or other individuals who may pose a danger to others.
“I didn’t find [obtaining a LTC] hard at all because I had no record, I’m a law-abiding citizen and I have nothing against me,” said Frank Dardonelli, a longtime member of the Firing Line, an indoor shooting range, at 1532 S. Front St. “I’d say it took about two months for me to get my [LTC].”
But many individuals who had already been denied a LTC or have had their LTCs revoked are able to acquire out-of-state licenses.
In Pennsylvania, 2,285 licensed arms dealers sold a total of 496,227 guns in 2009, with 233,884 of them being handguns.
Despite only 11 licensed firearms dealers existing in Philadelphia, gun sales in the city have been going up. In 2008, 6,746 handguns were sold in Philadelphia County by 15 dealers, and in the following year, 11 dealers sold 7,282 handguns, according to the Pennsylvania State Police Firearms Annual Reports.
The increase in sales does not necessarily lead to an increase of LTCs in the county. In 2008, 6,264 LTCs were issued, and in the following year, only 5,019 LTCs were issued.
Philadelphia officials have historically shown support for strengthening gun control in the city. In 2008, the Commonwealth Court dismissed a petition by city council members that would have allowed Philadelphia to set its own gun laws.
On Nov. 27, Gov. Ed Rendell vetoed a bill that would have extended the right to carry a firearm beyond a person’s home.
“The bill as passed encourages the use of deadly force, even when safe retreat is available, and advances a ‘shoot first, ask questions later’ mentality,” Rendell said in a statement, according to a Nov. 28 report by the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Another initiative that has laid dormant in Harrisburg is a proposal that would require reporting lost and stolen weapons as an effort to curb the illegal sales of straw purchases – illegal firearm purchases in which the actual buyer of the gun uses a proxy to purchase the gun at his or her behest. According to the “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” campaign, sponsored by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, 8.6 percent of criminals use this method to obtain firearms in the U.S.
“I think the average citizen carrying a firearm is a deterrent,” Dardonelli said. “I think there is an advantage for the criminal knowing that the other person doesn’t have a gun, and then they can rob them.”
WARY WHEN NECESSARY
Hirst-Hermans, who returns to his classes this week, said he is frustrated with his circumstances but doesn’t blame Temple or its North Philadelphia location.
Although Hirst-Hermans said he thinks his case could have happened anywhere, he said the issue of gun violence wasn’t in the forefront of his mind.
“You definitely know [gun violence] goes on,” Hirst-Hermans said. “But you never think it’s going to happen to you or anyone you know until something like this happens.”
Meanwhile, Acosta-Davis said he wishes the university informed students of crimes in the area more often.
“The thing that bothers me the most was when I got robbed on Camac at gunpoint [is that] I had figured I would have known,” Acosta-Davis said. “The police officers told me there were previous [similar] cases, and I was curious as to why I didn’t know about [them], especially because it was reoccurring on that block specifically.”
“It seems like every time there’s a case, Temple just brushes it under the carpet,” Acosta-Davis added.
The university communicates incidents that occur on and surrounding Main Campus via the TU Alert system, but officials are hesitant to use the system too frequently.
“The concern with being too aggressive in using the advisories is you don’t want it to become routine. If it becomes routine, [students might] blow it off,” Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Anthony Wagner previously told The Temple News [“Hart approves changes to TU Alert system,” Rosella LaFevre, Oct. 26].
But Acosta-Davis said his main concern is knowing when and where to be wary.
“There’s always an uneasiness about getting comfortable in the area you live in because that’s when you become a victim of it,” he said, “if you don’t stay aware of your surroundings.”
Brian Dzenis, Angelo Fichera and Maria Zankey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.