In a city where even the most innocent of lives are claimed by guns and with a homicide rate that keeps growing, the city's top leaders are aiming to stem the tide any way they can.

Last year, government leaders formed a gun-violence task force that targeted the straw purchasing of firearms.

Yesterday, District Attorney Lynne Abraham, along with Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson, first deputy state attorney general Bill Ryan, Chief Inspector Joseph Fox and Chief Inspector William Blackburn, announced that their efforts are starting to pay off.

Seventeen people have been arrested in connection with straw-purchasing schemes to buy guns illegally for criminals, Abraham announced at a news conference at the 18th Police District, 55th and Pine streets.

Since the initiation of the task force, which comprises former police officers and detectives, as well as experienced prosecutors, it has opened more than 70 investigations and seized more than 50 firearms, including AK-47's, .357 magnum revolvers and .40-caliber handguns.

Straw purchasing is one of the ways that convicted felons can get their hands on a firearm.

Under state law, convicted criminals are prohibited from purchasing firearms themselves so they get "straws" to do it for them.

"Straws are often citizens who have no prior criminal record," said Attorney General Tom Corbett in a statement.

After buying the gun and delivering it to the felon, the "straw" often reports the gun as stolen in an attempt to avoid liability when the gun is later used in a crime.

"With 108 homicides so far this year, murder is no mystery in the city of Philadelphia, and we want to absolutely do what we can to put a dent in the murder rate," Abraham said.

Johnson vowed to keep fighting to get illegal guns off the streets.

Abraham had a more defiant challenge to those still breaking the law and enabling criminals to commit more crimes.

"There's no more free lunch and no more free ride," she declared. "We are coming after you." *