There’s a lot of talk about Philadelphia gun crime.

City leaders, community activists, and clergy members hold press conferences, peace walks, gun buybacks, town hall meetings, and hearings. There is an expanding list of reports about the issue, each with recommendations, suggestions, and solutions about how to amend the problem.

Mayor Jim Kenney added to the discourse on July 25 when he announced the latest effort in the city’s faltering efforts to save human lives. The city filed a lawsuit against three licensed firearm dealers for, according to the official press release, “recklessly and repeatedly engaging in straw purchasing transactions, consequently fueling gun violence in Philadelphia.”

“Our administration is committed to using every possible legal means to stop the flow of illegal guns into our city,” Kenney said.

READ MORE — Jeff Hurvitz: Uncontrolled crime portends our failing city and country

But out of all the neverending talk about the deadly violence, which has killed 283 people in the city so far this year, nothing has been more telling than what District Attorney Larry Krasner said in the 100 Shooting Review Committee Report:

“We do not believe that arresting people and convicting them for illegal gun possession is a viable strategy to reduce shootings.”

That’s only part of the DA’s statement, but it reveals a perspective on the policies and strategies critics of Krasner say have led to the tragedy engulfing the city.

Since Larry Krasner officially took office in 2018, the yearly number of homicides has risen steadily:

  • 2018: 353
  • 2019: 353
  • 2020: 499
  • 2021: 562
  • 2022: 516

City leaders have been quick to point out that the number of murders in Philadelphia has decreased by 20 percent. This time last year, the city had seen 347 murders; as of this writing, 283 people have been slain in 2023. But adding up those grim numbers paints a darker picture of the issue: 2,556 human beings are dead.

They did not need to die.

The Krasner Perspective

In the 100 Shooting Review Committee Report, Krasner detailed his perspective on the problem. He said that “one frequently cited way to reduce shootings is to enhance enforcement against illegal possession of firearms, in spite of little research supporting the approach.”

He went on to say that due to the ease of obtaining firearms and the fact that some people don’t feel safe in the city, arresting and convicting people for illegal gun possession isn’t a viable strategy to reduce the number of shootings. He then qualified his remarks.

“Some people who illegally possess firearms in Philadelphia present a real danger to the community and merit vigorous prosecution leading to conviction and incarceration. Others are basically law-abiding people who have not obtained a license. There is a huge difference between these two groups, and public safety requires that they be held accountable in different ways. Very few people arrested for illegal gun possession are later arrested for committing a shooting.”

It sounds reasonable, but credible research shows a darker reality. 

An analysis of Krasner’s policies by the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund shows that cases of illegal gun possession by criminals are often dismissed or have charges withdrawn. In many other cases, the defendants are sentenced to minimal prison time but then released on probation.  

“Krasner is failing miserably at prosecuting felony offenses,” according to the analysis. “Compared to his predecessor’s average conviction rates, Krasner dropped or lost 26 percent more of all felony cases. More robbery cases (+14 percent) and auto theft cases (+37 percent) were dropped or lost. In drug sales (not possession) cases, Krasner dismisses or loses 55 percent of cases compared to the 34 percent rate of his predecessor — a 65 percent increase.”

The LELDF analysis went on to add that in his first two years, Krasner dropped or lost 47 percent of all illegal firearms cases, a 42 percent higher rate than the last DA, Seth Williams, while getting convictions in 21 percent fewer cases. 

“Studies have clearly shown that gun offenders are likely to go on to commit more violent crimes,” the report said.

Philadelphia Police Department reports underscore that statement. They reveal a fact that goes mostly unreported and further lessens the validity of the district attorney’s perspective: Most of the homicide suspects and victims have prior criminal records.

Krasner ended the use of our proven strategies, and subsequently, Philadelphia has experienced all-time highs in carjackings and fatal and non-fatal shootings.

In 2015, the year Jim Kenney was elected mayor, Philadelphia Police Department statistics showed that of the total number of murder victims for that year, 207 had a criminal record. There was no data in that report on the number of murder suspects with criminal records. However, for 2014, 80 percent of murder suspects (114) had at least one arrest prior to being arrested for homicide, and 70 percent of those suspects had been arrested for a violent crime.

An analysis by the PPD shows there were 306 murder victims in 2010, and 245 of them, or 80 percent, had previous criminal records. Of the 197 offenders arrested in Philadelphia for murder in 2010, 174, or 88 percent, had at least one prior arrest. Also, 74 percent of the people arrested for murder in 2010 who had a previous criminal record were arrested for a violent crime (murder, rape, robbery, or aggravated assault) prior to committing murder in 2010.

Subsequent PPD statistical reports on the website don’t show the number of homicide suspects or victims with criminal records. But the PPD did have the percentages of murder suspects and victims for 2022:

  • Sixty-nine percent of homicide defendants had at least one prior arrest.
  • Sixty-eight point five percent of homicide victims had a prior arrest prior to their death.

Former assistant district attorney Carlos Vega said he believes Krasner’s refusal to prosecute and convict defendants for illegal gun possession is because he perceives them as victims.

“Larry Krasner’s approach to arresting repeat offenders is to perceive their problems as caused by society, not the decisions of the individual,” said Vega. Vega ran against Krasner for district attorney in 2021 but lost. 

“No one has accountability for their decisions,” he said. “I can’t comprehend why he doesn’t grasp the fallacy of this. It’s falling on deaf ears. We had a task force under Mayor Nutter that offered help to those committing crimes. The clincher was that if they refused the help, they would be prosecuted aggressively. The district attorney has a Gun Violence Task force, but no one is going to jail. It’s a task force in name only. It’s a false promise.”

There were attempts to contact Jane Roh, the director of the DA’s office, for comments. There was no response.

This reporter instead reached out to William Fritze, supervisor of the GVTF, for comment. His response was: “I would be happy to speak with you regarding our efforts and impact on gun violence. I need to speak to both press offices first to get the go-ahead. If you give me a couple days, I will try to have an answer for you.”

That was on Aug. 17. No further responses followed.

Former district attorney R. Seth Williams had comments that mirrored Vega’s. “Krasner is opposed to holding people accountable for illegally possessing guns. He says it’s not a viable strategy, and his political view is that it criminalizes poverty. No, Larry. It is a proven, data-driven strategy, and it criminalizes people who are willing to shoot and kill other human beings.”

Williams continued, “In partnership with Mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey, along with local clergy, we focused on holding those arrested for illegal gun possession, which brought homicides to all-time lows. Krasner ended the use of our proven strategies, and subsequently, Philadelphia has experienced all-time highs in carjackings and fatal and non-fatal shootings.”

So Philadelphia continues to suffer through a pandemic of murders and other violent crimes. The city’s leaders will continue talking, coming up with new photo ops, and holding more hearings and press conferences. Millions of taxpayer dollars will be given to violence prevention programs.

And every single day, someone will be shot to death.

Larry Miller is a former police reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune. He is a lifelong resident of Philadelphia.

10 thoughts on “Larry Miller: Lots of talk, but little action on gun crime in Philadelphia”

  1. Prosecution for illegal guns? Who is going to do that when the Federal DOJ gives Hunter Biden a pass for his illegal purchase of and possession of a gun? I don’t understand the connexon between poverty and illegal possession of a gun. Does this mean that the way out of poverty is to get a gun and then use it for robberies to build a stash of money which then can be used to create an economic enterprise? The DA’s idea of illegal gun possession is simply his repeating the George Soros talking points used by other “progressive,” “woke” DAs hell bent on changing society to fit their ideologies.

  2. Maybe a focus on fatherless households, which is over 70% in Philadelphia, would be more productive.

    1. Indeed, they would. Emotionally stable, two parent families are the foundation though. Kids emulate what they see at home. The parents are the first teachers of the children.

  3. Congratulations, Mr. Miller, on a great piece. For the past six years, the media has given this D.A. carte blanche to continue his social experiments which, as Mr. Miller has demonstrated here, have clearly been a failure. If only the rest of the media would follow Larry Miller’s lead, and hold this D.A. accountable.

    1. Thank you, sir. I read your continuing stories with great interest. Each is better than the last. I agree with you. Why local media remains largely silent about the district attorney’s approach to law enforcement I just don’t know.

  4. Please provide the number of adults, and the number of children too, that were shot and wounded during that same time period. The number of murders has decreased but is it also correct that the number of shooting victims this year has actually increased? I bet you’d unravel quite a narrative digging into all that info. What is the total cost of all those shootings and who is paying for it? How many of these people could have been the next Elon Musk? What if US taxpayers siphoned off 2 billion of the 111 billion, which was recently charged up and spent in Ukraine, and instead hired private tutors for the rare children in Chicago or Philadelphia that currently consistently score B’s – not A’s. I think we would unleash at least two dozen new Elon Musk’s. The real crime is not the murders. And the real criminals aren’t even on the radar.

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