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As Philly’s gun violence continues, city officials call on legislators to enact more gun control measures

Mayor Jim Kenney was joined by city officials, legislators, and law enforcement officials in calling for more regulation of firearms.

Mayor Jim Kenney with State Sen. Sharif Street at a news conference Friday to advocate for stricter gun control laws.
Mayor Jim Kenney with State Sen. Sharif Street at a news conference Friday to advocate for stricter gun control laws.Read moreALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer

Ten days after eight people were shot in broad daylight near the busy Olney Transportation Center, city officials and community activists gathered at the transit hub to pressure state and federal lawmakers to enact stricter gun control measures — or let Philadelphia enact its own.

Renewing demands local advocates have made for many years, Mayor Jim Kenney said at a news conference Friday that the lack of action on existing gun control proposals in Harrisburg and Washington is contributing to the city’s skyrocketing violence, with 294 people shot this year and 76 people killed.

“We must stop the unabated flow of guns into our city,” Kenney said.

The event came as police released images of the men they say participated in last week’s shooting on Olney Avenue near Broad Street, where two women and six men ranging from 17 to 71 years old were wounded.

Police haven’t identified the suspects or determined a motive for the crime, and don’t know if any of the victims was an intended target. Most of those injured were bystanders, police have said, waiting to catch a bus or otherwise going about their daily routines when gunfire erupted on a busy street.

Police said one of the suspects wore a green ski mask during the shooting, along with a dark jacket and dark pants. Authorities described the other men as wearing dark clothing, and said they ”frequently drive around in an older model blue Ford Explorer.”

Officials largely focused Friday on gun regulations — and the familiar frustration that they are barred under state law from enacting local gun ordinances.

Kenney said policies Philadelphia wants include a requirement that gun owners report when their firearms are lost or stolen. The city has also sued over its inability to limit how many guns someone can purchase within a certain time period, or to require that people obtain a permit to purchase a firearm within the city.

Such measures, Kenney said, are “commonplace in other jurisdictions” and “do not violate the Second Amendment.”

Pressed for a more immediate plan to stem the onslaught of gun violence, State Sen. Sharif Street, a Philadelphia Democrat, acknowledged the real purpose for Friday’s news conference — which he organized — was to continue sounding the alarm so the message goes beyond the city and reaches communities where elected officials are less likely to agree with statewide limits on firearms.

”Let’s talk about this in a very blunt way. We have to elect enough legislators that we can actually pass gun laws,” Street said. “It is our job to notify the public. Philadelphia TV goes way beyond Philadelphia. There are people [watching this] sitting in Allentown, where the majority Appropriations [Committee] chair represents.”

Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said she agreed with Street that meaningful progress in the fight against gun violence can only come with broad changes to gun laws.

“Unless there’s something that happens on the front-end to cut off the supply chain, we’re going to be continuing to chase our tails time and time again, having press conferences like this, seeing the frustration that everyone feels,” she said. “We’re all frustrated.”

Outlaw said police have encountered startling levels of guns on the street recently, with officers on pace to recover more than 6,000 guns used in crimes this year after recovering more than 5,000 last year — an all-time record.

Police also say they believe gunmen have not only grown emboldened to carry illegal weapons, but also to fire them regardless of the time or place.

The shooting on Olney Avenue happened around 2:50 p.m. on Feb. 17 in the middle of a typically bustling commercial strip that includes Girls’ High School and Einstein Medical Center.

Street said Friday that he’s grateful the shooting wasn’t worse. His daughter goes to nearby Central High School and might have been outside at 3 p.m. near the transit center if schools weren’t closed because of the coronavirus.

“I’ve never felt grateful for anything in this pandemic,” Street said, “except for the moment when I realized that, but for schools being closed with the pandemic, my daughter would have been standing there.”