Wednesday’s prolonged shootout in North Philadelphia that injured six police officers may be the opportunity to turn the tide on gun control.
A narcotics warrant turned into a 7 ½-hour standoff between police and Maurice Hill, who was barricaded in a Tioga rowhouse with a hand gun and an AR-15. None of the officers’ injuries were life-threatening. Around midnight, the gunman surrendered, a testament to the professionalism of the Philadelphia Police Department.
Once again, the availability of firearms made a bad situation worse, and only by miracle, not deadly.
On Thursday, Mayor Jim Kenney stood next to Police Commissioner Richard Ross and other officials, and made a plea to Harrisburg: Help us protect our police officers by enacting gun control measures.
The research is absolutely on Mayor Kenney’s side. States that have a higher gun ownership rate have more fatal shootings of law enforcement officers — and of civilians by law enforcement officers. States that have stronger gun control have fewer fatal shootings of police officers.
So what should we expect to see from the General Assembly, which has a history both of inaction and of preempting cities from passing their own laws? Not much, despite the fact that a majority of Pennsylvania voters and a majority of gun owners support measures such as universal background checks and banning assault weapons.
The growing number of citizens killed in mass shootings haven’t led to action. To turn the tide, there needs to be a political cost to inaction. One of the most coveted endorsements in Pennsylvania politics is of police unions. Throughout the state, legislators who stand as barriers to gun control have enjoyed the support of many chapters of the Fraternal Order of the Police. It is time for police unions to lead the way on gun control with a clear line: no gun control, no endorsement.
In a news conference on Wednesday, the president of the FOP Lodge 5, John McNesby, said that there are too many guns on the street. Lodge 5 has been on the record in support of gun control bills and say they are open to review proposals. But they and other police and law enforcement unions have big muscles — and now is the time to flex them. Gun control is a police safety issue.
One law enforcement officer sounded a more dissonant note the day after the shooting.
U.S. Attorney William McSwain released a statement essentially blaming District Attorney Larry Krasner for the shooting. His claims are nonsensical. McSwain, who is not an elected official but was appointed by President Donald Trump, used a tragedy and a traumatic moment for the city for a petty internecine battle.
Gun violence in Philadelphia is an epidemic and demands unity, attention, and action. Every stakeholder in the city — from the police union to the mayor and DA and even the U.S. attorney — needs to send a unified message to Harrisburg: The safety of our people, and our police, is not negotiable.