Mayor Nutter's Crackdown on Lost/Stolen Guns Comes Under Heavy Fire

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 12 | Posted Mar. 6, 2012

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“The premise here is that lost and stolen laws can actually stop the straw purchaser—what cases have they used this in?” he says. “This has been happening, but when they testify before the Legislature they have no documentation that they’ve used this in that fashion? They’re saying, ‘We’re using it but we can’t prove it?’ That doesn’t work for me. Show me.”

Stolfer allows that if someone can show him proof the ordinances work, he might consider supporting a compromise that lets lost/stolen stand but works in some protections, such as requiring the establishment of criminal intent, or the means to hold prosecutors criminally and civilly liable if they abuse the law.

But he’s got a better idea for going after straw purchasers, one that doesn’t risk criminalizing law-abiding gun owners: Strictly enforce the laws already on the books—primarily the law against the illegal transfer of firearms—against straw purchases. Despite the fact that lost/stolen proponents insist they need the ordinance to build a case for that charge, Stolfer believes that the threat of a maximum seven-year sentence—plus good police work that builds a case against straw purchasers via fingerprints, time-to-crime (the time between when the gun was purchased and when it was used in a crime), video evidence from gun stores, witnesses and other potential evidence—should be enough to get a confession or conviction.

And then, he says, nail ’em to the wall with a five-year mandatory minimum sentence. “No plea bargain, no parole, no sob stories,” he says. “That gets around town fast. That makes people think twice.”

Stolfer says mandatory minimums are crucial because straw purchasers seem to get off easy. State Rep. Metcalfe, HB 1523’s prime sponsor, agrees. “When you look at statistics, a lot of the Philadelphia judges have been very lax in using the hammer of justice on criminals out there,” Metcalfe says from his Cranberry Township office.

The Philadelphia law-enforcement source acknowledges that lighter sentences are often the norm, but there are good reasons for that. Straws typically have clean records. There are often mitigating circumstances, especially when it comes to female straws who have been intimidated, abused or forced to purchase the weapons. And straws are frequently offered plea deals if they agree to cooperate in identifying the felon they supplied (and testify against them in court). Straws typically receive two years or less, instead of the possible seven years.

“I don’t wanna crucify someone who’s been traumatized and who has cooperated,” the source says. “Most of the people who engage in straw purchases, their lives are severely disrupted and they do significant time in jail.”

And calls for mandatory minimum sentences are typically met with resistance from myriad groups that believe in rehabilitation over incarceration.

Still, the source says that in terms of a deterrent, mandatory minimums for straws would be “an overnight game-changer” in combating gun crime.

Lost/stolen proponents will have an opportunity to make their case to skeptical legislators in Harrisburg as HB 1523 winds its way through the General Assembly.

“Nobody’s above the law,” says Metcalfe. “Just because somebody’s elected mayor of Philadelphia doesn’t mean that they can pass ordinances or execute policies that conflict with state law.”

Nacheman is resigned to the notion that 1523 will probably pass the House, but he’s optimistic that it can die in the Senate. “The senate majority leader [Republican Dominic Pileggi] represents Chester and the senate minority leader [Democrat Jay Costa] represents Pittsburgh, places that have passed lost and stolen, and considering the gun violence in those places, if they vote for this it would be a travesty,” says Nacheman.

CeaseFirePA clearly has a friend in Sen. Larry Farnese (D-Philadelphia), a longtime advocate for what he terms “commonsense gun laws.”

“When [1523] gets here I’m gonna go to the mat on this and do everything I possibly can to convince people that this legislation is just bad for Pennsylvania,” says Farnese. “If you take [lost/stolen] away and allow the gun lobby to bully these municipalities into throwing the laws away, then you’re eradicating law enforcement’s ability to deal with the gun epidemic that is just ravaging Philadelphia.”

If the bill makes it to Gov. Corbett’s desk, no one’s sure if he’ll sign it. Given his pro-gun track record, though, it seems a safe bet. Corbett’s office did not respond to requests for comment.

Nutter’s spokesman Mark McDonald says it’s too early to say what the city will do if HB 1523 becomes law, but notes that the mayor still believes strongly in the lost/stolen ordinance.

“I think it’s fair to say that we’ll defend what the mayor signed,” says McDonald.

But Stolfer insists his cause is just, and that even his biggest foes in Philadelphia may someday come to thank him for it.

“We cannot sacrifice Constitutional freedoms on the misdeeds of others,” he says. “We have to do a better job finding out what works and applying those principles, and not guesswork or theories, and that’s what lost or stolen is. I’m not against all gun laws. I’m for smart gun laws, and the way I see it, this law is not a smart law.”

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Comments 1 - 12 of 12
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1. Ed said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 04:19AM

“The article states, "If the bill makes it to Gov. Corbett’s desk, no one’s sure if he’ll sign it. Given his pro-gun track record, though, it seems a safe bet. Corbett’s office did not respond to requests for comment."

If you search the web loking for "Attorney General Corbett's Letter to Adams County DA, explaining the illegality of such laws". You will see a letter written by Tom Corbin, written when he's was Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

With Tom's past opinion regarding lost and stolen and other local gun laws, I belive that overnor Corbett would sign this bill ASAP.”

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2. Jim said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 10:05AM

“Ed - you skipped past the part where the former Philly DA said the same thing. And, notice that the politician from Philly (Farnese) admits the ordinances are illegal (if the law penalizes municipalities for illegal gun ordinances, lost/stolen ordinance is repealed, i.e. it is illegal).

If you break the law, even a law with which you don't necessarily agree, you stand the possibility of losing property (pay a fine) or liberty (go to jail) or even your life if it's a serious enough crime. What makes the city of Philadelphia so special that their politicians shouldn't be subjected to the same rules as you and me?”

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3. Robert said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 10:41AM

“Mr. Goldberg,

I want to commend you on a very fair and thought provoking piece of Journalism. It sounds like the police might have something that works and it's just a matter of convincing justifiably wary gun owners. I do not own a gun but like Mr. Stolfer I believe in the 2nd Amendment and most articles I read about guns are full of attacks and name calling from both sides. This article is refreshing and it gives the possibility that the compromise the Mayor is looking for can be reached if both sides try to work together.”

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4. kliffee said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 12:10PM

“Seriously, Mr. Stolfter. Who loses their gun? What, you dropped it on the way to the supermarket? Reporting a missing or stolen gun is right for the safety of society. Only people who own guns illegally would not report a missing/stolen gun. There is no better way possible to deter criminals from getting their hands on guns. And if a person who is selling guns to people they shouldn't and they repeatedly report their guns 'lost' or stolen, then we obviously need to keep an eye on this person.”

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5. Anonymous said... on Mar 7, 2012 at 04:24PM

“So the City of Philadelphia and its do as I say mayor, who rather than setting an example of lawfullness, pass stunt illegal laws that repulsed even gun-grabber Lynne Abraham, don't arrest and prosecute anyone fearing the stunt will be exposed, and it's all OK, 'cause they said just the right PC words.
Wait till this new law passes; you'll really hear whining.”

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6. louie said... on Mar 8, 2012 at 09:36AM


I suggest you pose your question to the 50 or so Philly PD officers(?) that "claim" to have lost their dept.-issued weapons.

These so-called "law-enforcement professionals" sure have alot of excuses for "stolen" and "lost" weapons.

You want to deter criminals?

How about "Truth In Sentencing," for starters. Take a peek at the lengthy records of the half-dozen thugs that shot down PPD officers over the past several years. Every one of 'em has a record as long as their arm, yet they were parrolled, and allowed to kill Philly Police officers.

What say you, genius?”

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7. kliffee said... on Mar 8, 2012 at 05:33PM

“I'm missing your point, Louie. Police officers should have to report a 'lost' gun, too. These criminals who have a lengthy record shouldn't have been on the streets or with guns. Where did they get their guns? Most definitely from straw purchases. What, you don't think we should be responsible with our guns and report if they are stolen or lost?”

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8. MG said... on Mar 8, 2012 at 09:07PM

“Good article that basically presents both sides of the issue including the general ineffective nature of this current local ordinance on illegal straw purchases, the overly aggressive even paranoid effect by Stolfer to get it off the books (really 1 case justifies his point?), and efforts to try to find some common ground.

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9. Anonymous said... on Mar 9, 2012 at 10:29PM

“There is no gun registration in Pennsylvania which would establish any presumption of gun ownership. And regardless, thanks to the Fifth Amendment, any accused "gun loser" may refuse to answer police questions about the recovered gun.

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10. Anonymous said... on Mar 9, 2012 at 10:38PM

“Cute how you substituted "ineffective" for "illegal."
Are there any other illegal laws you want to defend?

“Good article that basically presents both sides of the issue including the general ineffective nature of this current local ordinance on illegal straw purchases,"”

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11. Anon said... on Mar 12, 2012 at 11:12AM

““I wish guns had never been invented,” he says, “because if there were no guns, there would be no war, and once you’ve been in war ... friends of mine didn’t come home.”

Yes, war is hell, but people have been going to war and killing each other since long before guns were invented. Just sayin'”

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12. Louie said... on Mar 14, 2012 at 11:50AM


What 'Should be,' and 'What is,' are two different things. Please remove your rose-colored glasses.

PPD officers(?) SHOULD patrol the City. They DON'T!

PPD officers(?) SHOULD be PRO-active; they're not. They're RE-active. Well, sometimes.

A convict, convicted of over a dozen violent crimes SHOULD NOT BE PAROLED, but he was. RESULT...One dead PPD officer.

Every PPD officer shot and killed over the past 7 years was gunned down by a violent criminal who has a violent criminal record. How'd they get out of prison?

Philly courts are notorious for plea bargaining with violent criminals, who are responsible for many, many cases of violent crime. This is FACT.

Soft on crime and criminals.

Bore-ass harassment of law-abiding citizens.

And you tell me that Nutter and Ramsey don't have an Anti-Gun agenda?

C'mon, man, wake up!

Look at the Occupy A-holes! Nutter had no problem paying out well over a million dollars to babysit these freaks, instead of hiring more cops.”


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