As gun violence surges, Philly officials tell parents to take responsibility for firearms in their homes

(Image via The Philadelphia Tribune)

By Michael D’Onofrio

PHILADELPHIA — As gun violence trends upward and the city’s top cop says she lacks the resources to rein it in, city officials demand parents take more responsibility for the firearms under their own roofs.

On Thursday, a trio of legislators joined Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw and community activists to call on heads of households to rummage through their children’s and family members’ belongings to find guns and turn in the firearms this weekend

“We’re responsible for our children,” Councilwoman Cindy Bass said. “We have the ultimate responsibility in terms of making sure they are productive citizens, that they are contributing citizens to our city, to our nation.

“As parents, we need to handle our children appropriately,” she added.

The news conference came after two days of special hearings that highlighted the upswing in homicides and shootings this year, which are overwhelmingly killing African Americans.

While legislators called for more accountability from residents, they did not guarantee any new funding to combat the rising violence in Philadelphia this week. In June, council members and the Kenney administration also cut some anti-violence initiatives as part of addressing massive budget shortfalls.

The number of homicide victims in the city hit 260 on Wednesday, with Blacks accounting for approximately 85% of the victims, according to data from the Philadelphia Police Department. Homicides were up 29% compared to this time last year and on pace to reach a 13-year high.

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The department has made arrests in 49.4% of homicide cases this year, known as the clearance rate, meaning police are solving less than half of all homicide cases.

City officials and community leaders have called on the community to work together to stop gun violence.

For the “home gun check” campaign, police and community groups will set up safe locations on Saturday at a pair of Black churches in North and South Philadelphia for individuals to dispose of firearms with no questions asked.

Unlike in years past, city officials will not pay individuals for turning in guns at a time when the novel coronavirus pandemic has cratered the economy, led to double-digit unemployment in Philadelphia and closed countless businesses.

“We’re appealing to individuals’ conscience that they would do the right thing and take responsibility to work with us to help reduce shootings,” said Bilal Qayyum, a long-time community activist assisting with the weekend’s event and head of the Father’s Day Rally Committee.

Asked about potential tensions that could erupt within households when individuals remove the firearms of family members without their consent, Outlaw had no answer.

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“I wouldn’t be able to speak as to what would happen,” the commissioner said. “I know how I run my house. I can’t speak for other folks. While I would love to address whether or not there would be tensions, there very well could be.

“But at some point, you know, we all know — I know, leaders standing behind me know — change can create tension and cause people to be uncomfortable.”

Councilman Curtis Jones said taking guns away from a family member was “not snitching.”

“You may be saving your child’s life,” he said.

Outlaw said she did not have the resources to reduce gun violence in the city and cast doubt on whether anti-gun violence programs were sustainable long-term due to current budget constraints. The commissioner said an estimated 200 new officers won’t join the department’s ranks this year due to police budget cuts.

“We don’t have the numbers to sustain our efforts right now,” she said.

Outlaw said city officials should “review” whether the $276 million in federal funding the city is eligible for through the first coronavirus economic relief package, known as the CARES Act, can be used to combat the “public health crisis” of gun violence.

Jones said more city funding could come to fight gun violence, but he couldn’t say how much or when it would be available.

Jones suggested any savings the city receives through federal CARES Act reimbursements could go toward combating violence. He was in favor of reassigning some of the $25 million in funding members of council gave to themselves to combat poverty in this year’s budget.

Legislators were expected to meet before the end of September to hash out potential budget transfers but that’s no guarantee new funding for anti-violence programs was on the horizon.

“It’s all in the math,” Jones said. “If we have a second wave of COVID, we may not get to do that.”

Michael D’Onofrio is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared