In a little less than 13 weeks into 2005, Philadelphia has seen a 14 percent rise in murders from last year, with that tragic number now having reached 86. Of those 86 murders, 36 have occurred in this month; and 22 within an 11-day span.
Think about that. Those are numbers that can even rival certain points in the Iraqi conflict and only now, after the numbers have grown grotesque enough, has there been any sign of life out of City Hall.
The irony behind all this is that now, with the spotlight firmly fixated on city government, everybody has suddenly turned into a crime control expert. Tune into NPR in the morning and you’ll hear five councilmen voicing five different opinions, from increasing the local police presence to involving the National Guard to new gun legislation to simply better enforcing the laws that are already in effect. It all sounds so easy wrapped up into such nice little packages, but in the end it all amounts to the same thing – meaningless lip service from people dancing around the same tired story lines so as to keep their job rather than risk inspiring any meaningful change.
Yet, by either luck or actual insight, those politicians who have focused on the issue of guns do appear to be on the right track seeing as how the vast majority of these homicides have been caused by guns, be it through intentional targeting or crossfire shooting.
And while there are studies that show no correlation between the passage of gun control laws and crime levels, I find those studies to be misleading for without any actual change in gun control how can you expect any change in crime?
The 1994 Assault Weapons Ban served as a symbolic step in the right direction, but no true legislation limiting the sale of handguns, the most popular weapon involved in crimes, has been passed. And when you take under consideration the fact that New York City, a far larger metropolis than our own, has had a plummeting murder rate with 12,000 less registered firearms than Philadelphia, I believe a strong correlation does indeed exist.
Yet the closest that Pennsylvania came to any actual “control” was the promised legislation in Ed Rendell’s 2002 campaign for governor that would have limited gun purchases to one a month per person, but even that failed to win support within the Republican walls of Harrisburg.
And that was a moderate proposal. Real change would be limiting gun purchases to one a year, or even biennally. To his credit, Mayor John Street has announced his intentions to pursue issuing an indefinite moratorium on gun sales in Philadelphia, but such tough talk has been uttered before and I’ll only believe it when I see it.
So the real question is, what will it take before any actual changes are made? Many had thought the tragedy of Faheem Thomas-Childs, an 8-year-old who was caught in crossfire and killed last year, would have been the necessary spark to inspire true reform. But that obviously has not been the case.
Something tells me we’ll have to wait for a gunman to open fire in the middle of Temple University’s Main campus, a disturbing possibility considering the close proximity of a number of these recent murders. Or perhaps it will take a senator’s child to be caught in the middle of crossfire to inspire reform. Regardless of how it may happen, however, a day must come where we all face the reality that these cold, metal barrels bring to our doorsteps.
Noah Potvin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.