Tougher penalty proposed for illegal guns in Philadelphia

Saturday, April 6, 2013 - 5:00am

In the midst of intense national gun debate, lawmakers in Pennsylvania proposed a tougher gun law -- but only for the city of Philadelphia.

New legislation calls for a two-year minimum sentence for any illegal firearm possession in the city, bumping the current misdemeanor charge up to a felony.

State Sen. Larry Farnese of Philadelphia, a Democrat, and Rep. John Taylor of Philadelphia, a Republican, joined with local officials to announce the proposal in hopes of decreasing violence in the city.

In a news release issued Thursday, the day the legislation was introduced, Farnese said that "it gives Philadelphia's law enforcement community an important new tool that will help curb gun violence and keep illegal weapons out of the hands of criminals."

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams added that the change would "make the message loud and clear -- if you carry an illegal gun in Philadelphia, you will go to prison."

Other state officials are positive about the proposal, even though it would apply only to Philadelphia.

"In urban areas, it's a much more chronic issue. I think we have to do something about the gun situation there," Sen. Stewart J. Greenleaf said Friday. Greenleaf, a Republican representing parts of Montgomery and Bucks counties, just outside the city, is a part of the Senate committee that will review the legislation.

He said his only concern is the wording making the sentence mandatory, which he said might imprison people who don't belong in jail, such as those whose gun permits might have expired without their knowledge.

A study by the Police Executive Research Forum last year called Philadelphia the nation's most violent city in the nation, with a homicide rate well above other municipalities.

The proposal was made on the same day that neighboring Connecticut and Maryland passed sweeping gun legislation.

Connecticut's new law bans some weapons as well as the sale or purchase of high-capacity magazines such as those used in the Newtown shooting in December that left 20 children and six adults dead in a school. It also requires background checks for all gun purchases.

In Maryland, the legislation includes a ban on assault-style weapons and sets a 10-round limit for gun magazines. It also will require training for many first-time gun owners and bans some individuals with mental health issues from gun ownership.

The proposed legislation will be reviewed by committees in the Pennsylvania Senate and House. 

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