At 1:18 in the morning January 5, 2022, I received a text from a close friend who was just robbed on the streets of Philadelphia. The criminal recognized him in a nearby restaurant and attacked when he walked outside. The assailant clearly indicated that he had a gun.
My friend is a Democrat Representative in the General Assembly. I am a Republican. This isn’t about partisan politics. It’s about outrage with the proliferation of gun crime in our region.
I serve in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to work on big problems, like addressing murder and gun-violence rates, with Marine determination and the experience as a former U.S. Department of Justice gun prosecutor. I know at least one tried and true strategy to combat crime: hire more prosecutors and prosecute.
Accordingly, I secured $1.5 million in the state budget last year to hire more prosecutors in Philadelphia and Delaware County. These new prosecutors would have authority to prosecute felon-in-possession cases in federal court under a U.S. Department of Justice program called Project Safe Neighborhoods. Project Safe Neighborhoods relies heavily on cooperation between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies to protect the communities they serve. The program has been very effective in Philadelphia.
These new Deputies would federally prosecute gun-possession cases through the U.S. Attorney’s Office, using existing criminal laws making it illegal for felons to possess guns. Federal sentencing can be quite severe, and there is no parole in the federal system.
Unfortunately, Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner has not used one cent of this allocation to hire additional prosecutors to utilize this proven program.
In the six months since the funding was signed into law by Governor Wolf, the murder rate and gun violence have continued to skyrocket in Philadelphia. Rather than use the tool handed to him, Krasner says that he will not prosecute only gun-possession cases. That is clearly reflected in the prosecutorial statistics of the office.
It is no wonder that the District Attorney’s Office has seen a mass “exodus” of prosecutorial talent, which has thrown the office into chaos. There seems to be no will to enforce the law.
After the record violence was reported in the media, the political blame game soon followed.
The Mayor of Philadelphia had the audacity to convene a press conference to accuse the General Assembly of not banning straw-purchased guns. Straw purchasing is already illegal.
The Attorney General doubled down saying home-assembled “ghost” guns were to blame and also shifted blame to the General Assembly. When I asked for information about how many Philadelphia murders were traced to “ghost” guns, I got an eerie silence from the Attorney General’s Office.
Further still, Act 58 of 2019
granted the Attorney General concurrent jurisdiction to prosecute gun crimes in Philadelphia, including felon-in-possession cases. The Attorney General Shapiro said that he did not ask for that law and would not use it. The wrong side is winning when the chief prosecutor of Pennsylvania chooses not to prosecute gun crimes.
Undeterred, I intend to reintroduce authority for the Attorney General to prosecute gun crimes in Philadelphia. I will ask to reauthorize the state budget appropriation for additional deputized federal prosecutors. I will seek more state money for additional police and investigative resources in the regions plagued by violence.
My experience also reminds me that addressing gun violence is multifaceted. However, it is unconscionable to keep prosecutors on the sidelines while trying to defeat gun crime.
Gun violence is a scourge, and we should be able to unite in prosecuting gun criminals. I want justice for my friend and all gun crime victims. I hope to soon see Mayor Kenney, District Attorney Krasner, and Attorney General Shapiro change their views and start empowering prosecutors to do the job we need them to do.
Craig Williams is a State Representative for parts of Delaware and Chester Counties. He is a retired Marine Colonel, combat veteran and former federal prosecutor.