With nearly three months left in 2020, Philadelphia already surpassed the total number of homicide and shooting victims of last year. As of Thursday, 1,642 people have been shot and 368 people were murdered.
The current spike in gun violence is not unique to Philadelphia. Shootings and homicides are rising in cities all over the country. In the presidential debate, President Donald Trump blamed the spike in gun violence on the leadership of “Democrat cities.” But homicides and shootings are rising in cities with Republican mayors as well as in cities with Democratic ones. Where Philadelphia is different is that unlike many other cities currently experiencing spikes in homicide, like Chicago, gun fatalities have been rising from before the current murder spike. Since 2014, the overall number of homicides has been steadily increasing.
Unfortunately, more bloodshed and lives lost are all but guaranteed — but they don’t have to be. Both state and city leadership must do more.
Two days after a bloody Monday that left six people dead, Mayor Jim Kenney and City Council members announced that the city is formally taking legal action against state preemption laws that prohibit Philadelphia from regulating firearms inside city limits. The suit is important considering that the only gun-related bills that Harrisburg Republicans are advancing are to define gun stores and shooting clubs as “life-sustaining.” The irony is so blatant that it would be laughable if it wasn’t so tragic.
Pennsylvanians deserve legislators who are willing to enact lifesaving measures — red flag, permit-to-purchase, and safe storage. If Harrisburg won’t do it, they should allow Philadelphia to exercise its Home Rule and protect its residents.
And while gun control is critically important, it is just a part of the gun violence prevention puzzle. With so many guns already on the street, significantly impacting supply will take time — all the more reason to start as soon as possible.
What did work in other cities, and Philadelphia in the past, are hyperlocalized public health models — such as Cure Violence and Group Violence Initiative, when implemented with fidelity. We have been critical of the city’s Office of Violence Prevention’s slow start and lack of data. OVP says it is working on transparency, evaluating programs, and targeting resources. Years of increasing gun violence, and a recent Council hearing in which they provided few answers, has placed the onus on OVP to regain the trust and confidence of Philadelphia.
Last month, Council approved a resolution proposed by Councilmember Jamie Gauthier calling on Mayor Kenney to declare gun violence a citywide emergency. Kenney is reportedly considering it. If 368 dead Philadelphians in 10 months is not an emergency that requires all the tools at City Hall’s disposal, what is?
Just like the current rage and frustration over preventable COVID-19 infections and deaths, lives lost and altered due to gun violence should infuriate the city as a whole. Republicans in Harrisburg need to act on gun control or get out of the way, and local efforts must ramp up transparency and start showing results. Philadelphia is on a bloody trajectory — but it doesn’t have to be.