Three Days in Philadelphia

Students terrorized by after-school gun violence


Rick Weiss

3/10/20246 min read

Hi folks. Rick here. I live in Center City, Philadelphia on a quiet treelined street of fifty-three houses where my wife and I have lived for 40 years and know most of our neighbors. I can’t recall the last time we had a real disturbance. We raised two sons, now young adults, who attended Philadelphia public schools and went on to college and careers. I’m proud of my city. I write this, not to brag, but to make two points.

One you’re not doubt aware of already, because you’ve seen my hometown twice this past week on the evening news—a side of my city I’m not proud of. Images that are hard to look at.

Grim, rain-slicked streets, strewn with shell casings. Flashing police lights. Crime scene tape. A lone shoe, belonging to a slain teenager. Two SEPTA bus windows riddled with bullet holes. Eleven bystanders injured in the melee of gunfire. One, shot nine times, wounded critically. Gang-related—probably. Retribution of some sort—likely. Horrified witnesses with lifetime PTSD whose sense of security is forever shattered. Count on it.

On X, @DrEdMDBFD writes, “Has long been true that urban shootings where victims are often people of color and lower socioeconomic status do not get either media’s or public attention. Sad fact that highlights racism’s role in gun violence inaction and acceptance.”

The more typical response belongs to @rocket_goblin, who writes dismissively, “Looks like gang violence. I can almost guarantee that none of them were legally able to own firearms and the firearms were illegally obtained.”

Proving, I think, Dr. Ed’s point. "Oh, it’s just the city. What do you expect of “those people?” Which leads me to my second point. I’ve seen this sort of response before. But first, I will point out that we were reading about urban gangs and gang violence when I was a kid. Gangs were nothing new even 50 years ago when grudges and turf wars were usually solved by knives, chains and fisticuffs. It’s almost trite. Today there are about 393 million privately owned firearms in the US, or 120 guns for every 100 Americans. Can anyone doubt that by the simple economics calculus of supply and demand that many of those guns fall into the hands of young gang members?

Compare that to the roughly 100 million guns in circulation 1974, when I was the same age as slain Imhotep Charter High School student 17-year-old Dayemen Taylor.

It’s not just Twitter trolls like @rocketgoblin who feel the way he does. Our state legislature in Harrisburg is overstocked with representatives from the middle of the state where tiny towns predominate and our dense population centers, Pittsburgh, Allentown and Philadelphia are underrepresented. The urban representatives get it and raise alarms. The mid-state representatives are as condescending and dismissive as @rocketgoblin.

Pennsylvania is an open carry state (except for the city of Philadelphia). This means, once you buy your gun, you can carry it openly (on your hip, or across your shoulder) without any additional license. But any attempt by two of our previous City Councils to pass tougher local restrictions, like cracking down on assault weapons, straw buyers and gun traffickers, had been challenged, preempted and quashed by Harrisburg, by the very same representatives who look down their noses on us in the city.

So the city sued the state 3 ½ years ago to be able to enact strong gun control laws within its borders. The suit seeks:
A. Permit-to-Purchase Requirements
B. One-Gun-Per-Month Limits (preventing straw buying and trafficking)
C. Extreme Risk Protection Orders (red flag laws)

Access to Firearms

Today, according to CeaseFirePA:

• It is very easy to buy a gun in Pennsylvania
• There is no waiting period.
• There is no license or permit to purchase required.
• There is no training required before or after purchasing a firearm.
• The minimum age to purchase a long gun (rifle, shot gun, semi-automatic rifle) is 18. The minimum age to purchase a handgun is 21.
• There is no limit on the number of guns one may purchase at a time.
• There are virtually no regulations on the sale of ammunition.
• Private sales (by unlicensed dealers) of long guns (rifles, shot guns, semi-automatic rifles) do not require background checks.
• There is no safety training required, no proficiency standards, and no proficiency training required.

Gun Ownership
• There is no requirement to report to law enforcement that a gun has been lost or stolen.
• There are no child access prevention laws to encourage safe storage or to educate gun owners to take steps to keep guns secure from children or others who are prohibited from possessing firearms.

When did straw purchases become illegal?

It wasn’t until 2022, Congress enacted and President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act that prohibits a person from (1) transferring a firearm to another person if they know or have reasonable cause to believe that the use, carrying, or possession of a firearm by the recipient is a felony.

None of which helps young Mr. Taylor or the other kid from Northeast High who was shot 9 times yesterday and clings to life support. The flood of guns in this country isn’t going to magically dry up in two years. We’re going to need true culture change.

Gun Culture Change

And I’m not just talking about Imhotep High or Northeast High, two of our largest public high schools in the city where teachers are already working their keisters off to teach conflict resolution and violence mitigation. And I’m not just talking about the working class communities those students come from where civic, religious and city leaders are reaching out to parents to encourage a healthier relationship with cops and greater engagement in the lives of teens.

No, the culture change I’m really talking about has to begin in Harrisburg, our state capital, where the majority of our State Reps look east or west and say, “Why bother? It’s a city. What do you expect?"

What we Philadelphians expect is for you to do something or get out of our way as we try to manage the increasing gun violence within our borders.

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