Image: Resolution seeking gun-crimes study passes Pennsylvania House

Pennsylvania state Rep. Todd Stephens speaks from the floor of the House of Representatives in Harrisburg.

(The Center Square) – State lawmakers want the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing to study the investigation, prosecution and conviction of gun crimes in the commonwealth after a surge in shootings and deaths.

Members of the Pennsylvania House voted, 133-67, to adopt House Resolution 111 at the behest of Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, who pointed to the correlation between gun crimes and conviction rates in Philadelphia in recent years.

“We’re seeing a dramatic change, an uptick in the number of people shot, an uptick in the number of homicides, and we’re seeing a dramatic reduction in the conviction rate,” Stephens said last week when the resolution was passed. “It behooves us as a General Assembly to understand why that’s happening. Why is it that more people are being shot? Why is it that fewer people are being convicted? What’s going on?”

Stephens cited statistics to illustrate the issue.

“Just in 2020, there’s been 50 percent more women murdered in the city of Philadelphia with firearms. There have been 2,000 people shot just this year, just in the city of Philadelphia,” he said. “Just in the last seven days there’s been 40 people shot in the city of Philadelphia.

“Noteworthy, according to media reports, conviction rates for violations of the Uniform Firearms Act in Philadelphia went from 71 percent in 2015 all the way down to 53 percent in 2020.”

Stephens also explained the declining conviction rate only applies to cases that are solved, and the vast majority in Philadelphia are not.

“Since 2015, only 21 percent of the 8,500 shootings in the city of Philadelphia resulted in an arrest, and less than 9 percent reached a conviction,” he said. “The withdraw rate on firearms act violations went from 18 percent to 38 percent over that same time.

“It’s incredibly important that we get a handle on what is driving this dramatic increase in firearm fatalities and this dramatic decrease in convictions for those crimes,” Stephens said.

The resolution, which directs the commission to review the investigation, prosecution and conviction of gun crimes, cites data ranking the City of Brotherly Love as the worst in the nation for shooting fatalities with 434 in 2020.

“In 2020, Philadelphia suffered the highest rate of fatal shootings, 27.39 per 100,000 residents, among the 10 cities with populations greater than 1 million in the country,” the resolution read.

The 2020 figures for both the number of people shot and homicides were up nearly 40% from the previous year, according to the measure.

“Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw has argued that the Philadelphia criminal justice system has become a ‘revolving door’ for repeat gun offenders,” Stephens said. “This senseless loss of life must end, and we must undertake a concerted effort to address the rise in violent crime both in Philadelphia and across the Commonwealth. That must begin with an accurate accounting of how gun crimes are adjudicated.”

Stephens said the sentencing commission, which he chairs, is well suited for the work.

The commission “is comprised of members of the House and Senate – judges, a prosecutor, a defense attorney and a law professor,” he said.

Rep. Donna Bullock, D-Philadelphia, opposed the resolution and blamed the General Assembly for not granting the city more resources to deal with gun violence.

“This is not what we have asked for,” Bullock said.

“We have asked on numerous occasions to address gun violence in a way which we believe will keep our communities safe, yet we have not addressed it,” she said. “Nor has the gentleman asked anyone from the county of Philadelphia to work with him on this particular resolution.”

Rep. Martina White, R-Philadelphia, countered Bullock’s claims, testifying she spoke with Stephens and supports the resolution.

“The death and destruction [are] horrific. We have to do more,” she said. “But we also have to be real about the numbers and data behind it. That is what this resolution does. It will help us gather information so we can make better decisions moving forward.”

Nov 24, 2021

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