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NM Gov. Uses Emergency Power to Override Gun Rights. Could PA’s Shapiro Do the Same?

When New Mexico Democrat Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham declared a 30-day “public health emergency” restricting gun rights and overriding state gun laws, some Pennsylvanians wondered: Could her fellow Democrat, Gov. Josh Shapiro, use the Keystone Sate’s emergency powers laws to do the same?

As recently as June, Shapiro was in Delaware County advocating for more restrictive gun laws. And Philadelphia’s soaring violent crime rate is higher than the crime in Albuquerque, which inspired Lujan Grisham to declare an emergency.

Could Shapiro repeat the restrictive, months-long COVID lockdowns put in place by his predecessor, Gov. Tom Wolf (D)?

According to Pennsylvania political observers and analysts, the answer is not likely.

“The governor is subject to the same laws as every other Pennsylvanian and every other elected official,” Matt Brouillette, president & CEO of Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, told DVJournal. “He took an oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution and the Pennsylvania Constitution, so any action he takes must be in accordance with the constitution, both state and national, and with all current laws. He has no authority to suspend laws.”

Pennsylvania voters approved stricter limits on the governor’s ability to declare an emergency in 2021. The state constitution sets a 21-day limit on all crisis proclamations. Those declarations cannot be extended except by a concurrent resolution of the General Assembly. The governor is prevented from issuing new disaster emergency declarations on the same topic with General Assembly permission.

House Republican Leader Bryan Cutler said he believes the constitutional limits make Pennsylvania a freer state.

“Before, during, and after the COVID-19 pandemic, Republicans in the General Assembly, and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in particular, have been stalwart defenders of freedom and liberty and the need to follow the constitution and the rule of law,” he said in a statement to DVJournal. “We will always hold officials accountable by whatever legal means we have when they overstep.”

Maine Policy recently reviewed what states have the most and least powerful emergency powers laws for their governors to wield. It ranked Pennsylvania 10th least powerful, up from 43rd in 2021. South Carolina ranked first in the nation, while Vermont was dead last.

“The restrictions on the timeline are really key,” Commonwealth Foundation Policy Analysis Director Elizabeth Stelle said. “There’s only so much a governor can do in a 21-day period.” She added that putting the limits in the state constitution sets a higher bar “to get around than if it was just in a state statute.”

In New Mexico, Lujan Grisham suspended all open and concealed carry gun laws around Albuquerque for 30 days, with exceptions for law enforcement. The move has been roundly criticized, with multiple lawsuits filed.

“It is extremely clear that Grisham knows she is operating outside of constitutional bounds, especially after last summer’s Bruen ruling, which specifically protected individuals’ rights to carry firearms outside the home,” the National Association for Gun Rights said in a statement.

While both Lujan Grisham and Shapiro are Democrats, he appears to have earned a great deal of trust from friends and critics alike.

“Gov. Shapiro is a ‘thinker,’” says Bruce Castor Jr., former acting Pennsylvania Attorney Generalm who also served ad Montgomery County DA. He’s now in private practice. “By that, I mean he does not do “crazy” things…Our governor, I believe, will have already decided what the limitations are on his authority and would not do anything as obviously contrary to the law as the governor in New Mexico is reported to have done.”

The courts or the legislature would likely get involved should a Pennsylvania governor decide to do their best imitation of Lujan Grisham.

“Absolutely,” declared Castor. “Not just the General Assembly, or individuals within the General Assembly. Also, people aggrieved by any supposed unconstitutional act would go to court to challenge that exercise of authority.”

Stelle is confident in the system currently in place. She warns executive overreach won’t necessarily be immediately tossed. “In the past, those questions have played out through many months of litigation. I would suspect the same thing would happen in Pennsylvania, regardless of the political makeup that there would be pushback from the party that’s not the governor’s party.”

Shapiro’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Shapiro did defend former Cov. Wolf’s COVID orders while serving as state attorney general but said during his gubernatorial campaign that he didn’t agree with them.

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Cheltenham Hosts Emotional Meeting After Armed Student Caught at Football Game

A 17-year-old Cheltenham High School student bringing a gun with two high-capacity magazines to a football game in Abington Friday night sent shock waves through the community, frightening parents over their children’s safety.

To address parents’ concerns, Cheltenham School District Superintendent Brian V  Scriven, PhD., held an emergency town hall meeting Monday evening.

The teenager was taken into custody without incident and remanded to the Montgomery County Juvenile Center. Scriven told the gathering of concerned residents and families there was no indication beforehand the student was having problems.

The youth, who was not identified because of this age, attended Myers Elementary School and had been in the district since kindergarten.

“It does hurt my heart,” said Scriven. “That wasn’t a transplant. That was somebody who came through our district, and we failed. And I own it. And that’s why programmatically I’m looking at what can we do to have those safeguards in place?”

A parent in the stands had spotted the gun in the teenager’s waistband and alerted an Abington officer. Officers took the suspect into custody near a rear fence and another male standing near him. A girl who was talking to them was not arrested, and the second male was released Friday night, police said.

Cheltenham Police Chief John Slavin, whose son was at the game, also spoke.

“As a parent, it hits me where I live,” Slavin said. “I’m on the phone with my son, ‘What’s going on?’ I’m not there. I don’t know what’s happening. I’m getting a little anxious.

“This is a national issue,” said Slavin. “It’s not just a Cheltenham issue. It’s not an Abington issue. It’s a national issue. How do we improve?

“The game means nothing, really,” said Slavin. “It’s not even the point. The point is to get everyone out of there safely. That’s the priority, not the sporting event. It’s the students. And the faculty and staff and the visitors who are at this game. And how we can keep them safe.”

He reviewed the last five years and said very few incidents of juveniles with guns were reported in Cheltenham.

“We have to do work on this. Let students know there are consequences for this,” he said, offering to partner with the district.

One parent asked whether the teen would be readmitted to the high school. Scriven said bringing a gun to school called for mandatory one-year expulsion, but the school board will likely revisit that policy.

A mother said her child told her high school kids sometimes bring guns to school to show them off, which seemed to surprise Scriven and high school Principal Jimmy D’Andrea.

Several parents asked for metal detectors to be placed at the doors. Others said there should be screening at all events with security wands, and someone should check people’s bags before they enter venues.

United Parent Group Co-President Lakisha Rodwell Green read a list of ideas her group devised over the weekend. They included better screening, added security at games, walkie-talkies for various group leaders to improve communication, and a buddy system for students for emergencies.

Novice Ezell, a parent, was in the stands with her two elderly parents and worried they would get trampled when some students, who saw the football players run off the field, started running, too. No one told the spectators what was happening, she said.

“It took about 30 minutes to get answers,” said Ezell.

Later, she said she did not “feel comfortable” that her child was safe at school.

“It’s a very unsettling thing to think about: Is my son going to be safe walking into the school? We’ve seen it across the United States: a gun found in a bookbag, a gun found anywhere…Is he safe?”

“This is the first of many conversations,” said Scriven. “I have learned that I cannot 100 percent guarantee that nothing will happen, just like I had no control over Friday. I think collectively, we have to work on our path forward. That’s why I had this town meeting. And that’s why I try to be as transparent as I can be. We need to all do our part.”

“Is there now going to be a commitment to figuring out what we do to take care of our students’ mental health moving forward?” asked Rachel Ezekiel-Fishbein. Last year, after the Uvalde, N.M. school shooting, a group of stakeholders met to talk about these issues with state Rep. Napoleon Nelson (D-Glenside). “It kept coming back to mental health, mental health. And one of the things I heard about was really amazing was these groups of people from all works of life, counselors, teachers, therapists, O.T.s, police officers, who are always keeping an eye out for children…” And instead of just trying to help the troubled child, they reach out to the family, she said.

There are programs to help students in crisis in the district, said Scriven, including mentorships and leadership programs, and more are being planned.

Another parent said today’s children have endured active shooter drills since kindergarten.

Both Scriven and Slavin assured the parents Thursday night’s home game with Chester would include new safety procedures and more security personnel.

Nelson said, “If you see something, say something. If you see someone just looking like they’re lost or if they look like they’re a danger to themselves or others…The most important thing we can do when we leave here is commit to being that portion of our community that looks at and after our kids.”

“And when I say ‘our kids,’ I don’t mean my daughter who’s in the eleventh grade,” said Nelson. “I don’t mean your specific children. I mean our kids.”

A red flag law he voted for is also important, he said. This would allow family members to ask law enforcement to take away a gun from a relative who was violent or suicidal. That bill passed the House but not the Senate.

“To the extent there is legislation, know we are on it. We’re working on it. And we will continue to work with the school district and the police department on grants, funding, and support. And to wrap our arms around the district that we all love, and you love.”

To report something suspicious anonymously, call the Safe to Say number: 844-Safe-to-Say.

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Montco Cracks Down on Straw Gun Purchases as Philly Crooks Come to Suburbs

While the debate over adding new gun laws continues, a local prosecutor says Pennsylvania’s current laws can have a major impact on gun crimes, and he believes his record proves it.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin R. Steele and his department have been cracking down on straw purchases of guns, charging some two dozen people with so-called straw purchasing and related offenses.

All of the defendants are from Philadelphia.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives defines a straw purchase as buying a gun for someone prohibited by law from possessing one or for someone who does not want their name associated with the transaction.

In June, the district attorney’s office announced the arrests of Antwoin Lofton, 25, and Aja Morris, 27, who were part of an organization involved in straw purchasing of firearms. Kenneth Lyles, 30, has been named in the case. Morris and Lofton turned themselves in. Lyles remains at large.

“Gun trafficking and straw purchasing of firearms put guns in the hands of criminals, arming people who are not legally allowed to possess a firearm,” Steele said in a statement. “This is dangerous and a threat to public safety. We are committed to continue going after and tracking down anyone buying and selling firearms illegally in Montgomery County.”

According to his spokesperson, Montgomery County law enforcement has investigated illegal gun purchases involving more than 750 firearms since 2019.

Unlike other prosecutors in Pennsylvania, including Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, who routinely promote more gun control, Steele prefers the law on the books.

“I think we could use more tools,” Steel said, adding he believes Pennsylvania’s current gun laws are particularly effective when local authorities team up with federal agencies. “Lost and stolen mandatory reporting could be helpful in some cases. My point is [the current statutes do] not hinder investigations in these cases…using those existing laws, strategies, and new technologies successfully.”

Tough sentences for those convicted of gun crimes are important, too, Steel added. He pointed to efforts to break up gun trafficking groups and the five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence for multiple straw purchases as proof that a strong message is being sent to criminals.

“If you look at the cases, not just the arrests, we’re getting significant sentencing in these cases,” he added. “In Montgomery County, we have not found a system that makes it difficult to punish these cases. Our courts take these cases very seriously, and you see that reflected in the sentencing.”

Since the beginning of the year, 22 people have been arrested and charged with straw purchasing. That includes a case in February when eight people were arrested in connection with a gun trafficking organization that purchased 94 firearms and tried to purchase 23 more, all to be illegally resold. All the defendants were from Philadelphia and faced dozens of felony charges related to straw purchases of firearms, illegally transferring firearms, operating a corrupt organization, and other charges.

Steele recently wrapped up his tenure as president of the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association and remains a member of the executive committee. PDAA says its mission is to make sure the public and its members understand criminal justice matters.

The PDAA has long complained that straw purchases are to blame for the gun violence in Pennsylvania. It is also one of the few issues that tend to unite gun advocates and gun control groups.

“Generally, Pennsylvania gun laws are quite lax,” said CeaseFirePA’s executive director, Adam Garber. “The main protection we have is a strong background check system. But beyond that, you can walk in and buy a gun in a very short period with minimal safeguards and no training needed.”

CeaseFirePA’s deputy director of government affairs, Brandon Flood, elaborated, saying that Brady (Brady gave Pennsylvania a B-minus in its ratings of gun laws across the United States. That is far from a failing grade, and Flood added the commonwealth can do much more.

“There is definitely room for improvement,” he said. “Just to illustrate, recently, the state legislature took up the issue of liquor privatization, a proposal that was defeated. We need to apply that same level of energy to tighten our gun laws. One thing Pennsylvania gets right is the need for a background check. Anyone who goes into a federally licensed firearm store or even looks to purchase a firearm or a rifle at a gun show is subjected to an extensive criminal background check.”

Steele said having such additional laws would be useful, but not having them need not hinder gun trafficking investigations.

One commonsense strategy used by the Montgomery County Detective Bureau is to routinely review multiple gun purchases by individuals.

“Typically, an investigation begins when a person who is not legally allowed to own a gun is arrested/found to be in possession of a firearm, said Kate Delano, a Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office spokesperson. “That firearm is traced to the purchaser, and the investigation begins.”

According to Delano, tracking those cases is very time-consuming as many gun shops still use a paper/carbon-copy system to record firearms purchases, which are mailed through the U.S. Postal Service to the Pennsylvania State Police, who then hand-key the information into a database. Given the volume of purchases, it takes a while to record serial numbers related to gun purchases.

“The Attorney General’s Office has been making a concerted effort for the last several years to get more gun stores onto the Electronic Record of Sale (EROS) system, which instantly sends the record of the firearms purchase to the state police database, which is traceable by police officers who recover a gun at a scene,” Delano said. “There is continued outreach, and progress has been made, but there is a long way to go.

For example, a routine review of gun purchases by the Montgomery County Detective Bureau led to the investigation and arrest of Daniel Lucas in 2020. Lucas, also from Philadelphia, allegedly straw-purchased 36 firearms in 77 days in eight counties. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced by Montgomery County Judge Wendy Rothstein to ten to twenty years in prison.

Another technological tool for law enforcement is the NIBN (National Integrated Ballistic Information Network) machine that tracks firearms by the signatures left on the fired cartridge cases like a fingerprint. All four suburban Philadelphia counties share the technology. When a bullet is fired, each gun leaves its own signature on the casings. The NIBN system compares these individual casings against its six million FCC database and creates a list of high-probability matches.

Steele said a growing number of gun trafficking organizations have been dismantled, and the mandatory minimum sentencing required by the Brad Fox Law for straw purchasing sends a strong message to the defendants and others who might be thinking of straw purchasing that it’s not worth it.

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Senate Republicans Launch Pro-Gun Second Amendment Caucus

Republicans in the state Senate have launched what’s being billed as a pro-gun caucus that its chairman says will work to counteract gun misinformation in the state government.

The Second Amendment Caucus will give its members “more opportunities to become actively involved in protecting and strengthening lawful firearms ownership,” Sen. Chris Dush (R-Cameron) said in a press release announcing the association.

Dush and 13 other senators—all Republicans serve as inaugural caucus members.

Dush told DVJournal he would be working to get more Democrats involved in the caucus, noting that the state House’s Second Amendment caucus, on which he previously served, has included Democrats as well as Republicans.

Dush said the newly formed caucus has no immediate legislative aims and instead focuses on promoting accurate firearm education.

“What we want to do is get together and start planning a way to deal with the misinformation coming from the left about weapons,” Dush said.

“The phrase about ‘gun violence,’ it’s about violence, period,” he argued. “Our society is going through social contagions with psychological issues and everything, and the violence isn’t just limited to firearms. The left, though, is using this increase in violence as an opportunity to try and focus on the instrument rather than the root causes of what’s causing the psychological issues.”

“We need to make sure that we’re getting the message out that we need to address the core issues that are the causes, and we need to remind people of why the Second Amendment and Article I, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania state constitution are there in the first place.”

The state constitutional article referenced by Dush, among the oldest gun rights provisions in the United States, stipulates that “the right of the citizens to bear arms in defense of themselves and the State shall not be questioned.” Gun advocates have pointed to this early code as evidence of the country’s longstanding culture of individual gun rights.

Dush argued that modern Pennsylvania is rife with gun laws in contrast to its pro-gun roots.

“Pennsylvania’s got more laws on the books dealing with firearms than you can shake a stick at,” he said. “I think if you just printed out the sections of the various codes that deal with firearms, and just those sections, I think it’s several inches thick.”

One of the problems with gun violence in the state, Dush said, is prosecutors don’t aggressively follow through with gun charges.

“We don’t have the prosecutors going after these things,” he said, claiming that the state sees “so many rap sheets of firearm charges” with hefty “mandatory minimum sentences,” and prosecutors end up “just dropping them over and over and over.”

“And you have guys who were repeat offenders whose firearms charges were never prosecuted,” he added. “If they start prosecuting those and going after those mandatory minimum sentences in the first place, you would see a drop in firearms used in the commission of a crime.”

Dush said the caucus is not looking to make splashy efforts to pass gun control laws, particularly as the House and Governor’s Office remain in Democratic hands.

“I’m not going to put stuff out there just to gain headlines,” he said. “If it hasn’t been introduced, we’re probably not going to unless someone comes out with something novel.”

Gov. Josh Shapiro has indicated his support for gun control laws. As attorney general, he voiced support for what he said was “a state’s authority to protect its citizens and establish gun safety laws.” Before his inauguration as governor, he suggested pursuing at least some gun regulations while in office.

Earlier this year, Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) introduced an “assault weapons” ban meant to ban dozens of models of popular rifles in the state. Last month the state House passed two gun control laws: A “red flag” law and a universal background check law. Those bills remain pending in the Senate.  

On June 12, at 11 a.m. on the front steps of the state capitol, the Pennsylvania Senate and House Second Amendment Caucus, Dush, and Rep. Abby Major (R-Armstrong/Westmoreland), along with other pro-Second Amendment legislators, will join with law-abiding firearm owners from across the commonwealth for the 2023 Right to Keep and Bear Arms Rally.

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DelVal Senator Calls U.S. Gun Rights ‘Global Embarrassment’ During PCN Debate

Delaware Valley state Sens. Anthony Williams (D-Philaldelphia/Delaware) and Cris Dush (R-Centre) faced off on Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN) on Tuesday evening to debate gun rights in the Keystone State, including Dush’s proposal to allow citizens in the state to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

At issue was Article 1, Section 21 of the Pennsylvania Constitution which states, “The right of the citizen to bear arms in defense of themselves and the state shall not be questioned.”

Dush is sponsoring a bill in the state Senate that would allow “every person” in Pennsylvania to carry a firearm without a license so long as they are not legally barred from owning the gun.

State Sen. Cris Dush (R-Centre)

Dush argued that “the people who have a lawful ability to carry a firearm in the commonwealth, they shouldn’t have to have a permit. The people who are already lawfully able to carry a firearm, they can do so [under the bill].”

“Those who are not lawfully able, they’re not going to pay attention to any law on the book anyway,” he added.

Williams claimed America’s gun rights have made the nation a global laughingstock.

“The further allowance of armament by Americans is the bane of our existence and the embarrassment of America globally,” he said. “The global community laughs at us. We have more regulations to drink, to smoke a cigarette, and to drive a car in Pennsylvania than we do to buy a gun.”

The two senators debated for over an hour, including taking questions from callers.

Williams said the U.S. has “too many illegal guns, too many illegally purchased guns, and too many people who shouldn’t own a gun. We have to acknowledge that we have a problem.”

Dush said focusing on guns as the ultimate source of violence in the U.S. is misguided.

“As a society, the things that we need to start addressing, they need to actually address the problems,” he said. “Pieces of equipment, that’s not actually the problem.” He argued that breakdowns in family structure and mental health issues were driving violence in communities nationwide.

The politicians also traded arguments regarding the constitutional basis for gun ownership in the U.S.

Dush said the Second Amendment is “there to protect the citizenry from people who abuse their power,” a contention with which Williams sharply disagreed.

“We’re having to debate about people arming themselves against the government. That’s chilling,” Williams said.

Dush’s bill—Senate Bill 357—is part of a recent flurry of laws passed by GOP legislators nationwide to codify so-called “constitutional carry” into law.

Residents of most states have long been required to obtain a license in order to carry a concealed weapon. But pro-gun Republicans have recently moved to abolish those provisions and allow unregulated concealed carry.

The United States Concealed Carry Association says as of January 1 of this year, a majority of states—26 in total—allow permit-free concealed carry.

Gun critics have claimed the proliferation of such laws contributes to a surge in violence in the United States, though the RAND Corporation says that evidence that permissive gun laws increase violent crime and homicides are “inconclusive” and “limited.”

DelVal Cops Tout Arrests in Local Gun Trafficking Ring

Delaware Valley law enforcement agencies announced arrests in a major gun trafficking ring that involved an alleged criminal enterprise involving nearly 100 firearms.

At a press conference on Wednesday, District Attorneys Kevin Steele (D-Montgomery County) and Matthew Weintraub (R-Bucks) were joined by acting Pennsylvania Attorney General Michelle Henry, Abington Police Chief Patrick Molloy and members of state police and ATF.

Steele said Larry Williams, 40, of Philadelphia led a crime ring of straw purchasers who bought at least 94 firearms and tried to buy 23 more but were stopped by alert gun dealers. Twenty-nine guns were recovered by police.

Montgomery County detectives began the investigation in June 2022.

“They were obtaining significant amounts of guns in short periods of time and then reselling them to juveniles,” said Steele. “Or felons who were unable to obtain guns and then used them in other crimes.” He said those prohibited from owning guns would include people with a record of domestic violence or mental illness. “Or to provide guns to drug traffickers.”

County detectives have investigated 750 straw purchase cases since last fall.

The Williams group was the largest snared by law enforcement in an investigation that began with Abington’s police department and led to an investigation by county detectives. Steele said investigators used the Electronic Record of Sales (EROS), cell phones, records, and social media to track the straw purchasers.

It ultimately led them to Larry Williams.

“Williams couldn’t buy a firearm because of his past indiscretions,” said Steele. “He recruited other defendants who lived in Philadelphia to buy firearms.”

Steele said Robert Cooper III, 23, purchased 41 guns and tried to buy eight others in less than two months. Zair Stenson, 26, bought 36 firearms and tried to buy seven others; Malik Rowell-Jernigan, 24, purchased eight firearms and tried to buy three additional guns; Kevin Lester-Logan, 24, bought three guns; Daynell Jones, 40, bought three firearms; Zakayla Deshields, 22, bought three firearms and Shadiid Smaley, 23, attempted to purchase five firearms.

Many of these purchases happened at gun shows in Oaks, Allentown, and York, Steele said. Williams would point out the guns he wanted to his associates. Then, using cell phones and payment apps, they would quickly resell the weapons.

Guns trafficked by the organization have been used in a robbery in Connecticut, as well as shootings in Philadelphia and other crimes.

“It takes collaboration,” Henry said of the various agencies involved in the gun cases. “If this case doesn’t say it, I don’t know what case does. Guns have no borders.”

“Guns far too often end up in the hands of dangerous individuals,” she said.  “There could have been even more weapons if not for the flag raised by firearm dealers…they did the right thing.  This case really shows there are still many ways to flood the streets with firearms.”

“We are working tirelessly around the clock to be sure (people) are safe,” she said. “The numbers are upside down. The numbers don’t work…But for the grace of some gun dealers that are tracking these sales and reporting them. That’s like locking the barn door after the horse left the barn.”

“We recovered almost 30 guns. That leaves another 65 guns that are out there. And sadly, you never fully exhale. I’m always waiting to get that call that this illegally purchased gun was used to do some terrible damage to our citizens,” Weintraub said.

Asked by the Delaware Valley Journal what percentage of illegal possession of gun charges get dismissed through plea bargains, Steele said he did not have those numbers. But many of the straw purchase cases have gone to trial.

“And those are significant sentences,” he said. “These charges aren’t going away on people…Brad Fox was a police officer here that was killed by a man using a straw purchaser, and [the shooter] told that straw purchaser that he would kill a cop if he got stopped, and he did.”

The Brad Fox law, signed by former Gov. Tom Corbett in 2012 and named for a murdered Plymouth Township police officer, requires a mandatory five-year sentence for straw purchasers.

DVJournal asked why the U.S. Attorney’s Office is stepping in and handling so many gun cases, mainly in Philadelphia, Steele said, “I think we’re handling a lot. We’ve had 750 investigations along those lines. Welcome to Montgomery County.”

“We have legislation to do these investigations,” he said. “We’re all working together. And especially the collar counties of Philadelphia. We’ve been really, really active as a team, and we’ll continue to do that.  You’re going to hear more about that teamwork going forward. Matt’s got Bucks. I’ve got Montgomery. And that’s our focus.”


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Police Beatings Deserve Outrage, but It Isn’t Easy Being Blue

Police excess gained huge attention after the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020 and again after the alleged beating death of Tyre Nichols in Memphis last month. But police excess isn’t new.

A friend, who had been drinking and could be quite truculent when drunk, was severely beaten in the police cells in Leesburg, Virginia, a couple of decades ago. I have never seen a man so badly hurt in a beating — and I have done my share of police reporting.

That he provoked the police, I have no doubt. But no one should be beaten by the police anywhere, ever, for any amount of provocation. I might mention that my friend — and the officers who might have killed him — are White.

I used to cover the Thames Police Court in the East End of London. That was before immigration had changed the makeup of the East End. It was then, as it had been for a long time, solidly White working class.

Every so often, a defendant would appear in the dock showing signs that he had been in a fight. One man had an arm in a sling, another had a black eye, and a third had bruises on his face. One thing was common: If they looked beaten up, they would be charged with “resisting arrest,” along with other charges like drunkenness and petty larceny.

In the press benches, we shrugged and would say something like, “They worked that bloke over.” We never thought to raise the issue of police brutality. It was just the way things were.

At least nowadays, when social norms don’t allow police to hit suspects, there is a slight chance of redress. Although I would wager that nearly all police violence goes unreported, the “blue wall” closes tightly around it.

People in uniform, men and women, hold dominion over a prisoner. If there is ethnic bias or verbal provocation, bad things can and do happen.

Yet, I hold a brief for the police. Policing is dangerous and heartbreaking work, especially in the United States, where guns are everywhere. Also, it is shift work, itself a stressing factor.

Wearing the blue isn’t easy, and abuse and danger go with the job. Sean Bell, a former British policeman, now a professor at the Open University, described the police workload in the United Kingdom this way, “Those in the policing environment can become a human vacuum for the grief, sorrow, distress and misfortune for the victims of crime, road crashes and the plethora of other incidents dealt with time after time.”

Many of the incidents of American police being shot and police exceeding their authority have as their genesis a traffic stop, as with Nichols. These are a cause of fear for both the police and criminals. It is where the rubber meets the road of law enforcement.

Motorists form our opinions of the police largely through traffic stops, which we rail against. But to the police, they are a  life-threatening hazard as they approach a car that may have a crazed or dangerous criminal driver with a gun. They face danger and tragedy in plain sight.

The only thing police officers are warier of than traffic stops are domestic violence calls. They are the worst, officers in Washington have told me.

Yet, the traffic stop is an essential police tool, partly for controlling traffic but, importantly, for arresting criminals, fugitives and drug transporters. It is how the police work within the constitutional prohibition on illegal search and seizure.

People who have control of other people — drill sergeants, wardens and the police — are in a position to abuse, and some do. A uniform and authority can bring out the inner beast. Remember what went on in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq?

After the two terrible incidents of police excess, Floyd and Nichols, all the solutions seem inadequate. But when out on the streets or in our homes, most of us are vitally aware that we feel secure because a call to 911 will bring the law — the men and women in blue who guarantee our safety and wellbeing.

What to do about police violence? Vigilance is the first line of defense, but appreciating the police and holding them to account helps. Not many police officers feel appreciated, and that isn’t good for them or for society.

“The policeman’s lot is not a happy one!” So wrote British dramatist W.S. Gilbert in “The Pirates of Penzance,” an 1879 comic opera, one of his collaborations with composer Arthur Sullivan.

And Gilbert and Sullivan had never dreamt of a traffic stop.

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Bucks, Montco DAs Announce Arrests in Gun Trafficking Ring

Twenty-year-old Clayton Robinson of Glenside is the alleged mastermind behind a multi-county gun trafficking ring, where guns were bought by straw purchasers, stripped of their serial numbers, and then sold for cash or bartered for drugs, Delaware Valley officials said Thursday.

The gun ring is also said to have stolen some of the firearms they traded.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele and Bucks County District Attorney Matt Weintraub were on hand with Abington Police Chief Patrick Molloy and numerous officers and detectives for a press conference announcing the arrests. The six guns that police and detectives had seized were on display. However, there are at least 34 guns involved in the scheme, with more likely, said Steele, who added the investigation is ongoing.

Robinson and his crew also sold guns with “switches” they had made to change the firing action from semiautomatic to fully automatic.

“It’s going to fire the entire number of bullets that are in that gun,” said Steele.

Abington Police Chief Patrick Malloy, Montgomery County DA Kevin Steele, and Bucks DA Matt Weintraub discuss gun ring arrests.

Robinson’s two brothers, Julian Robinson, 31, and Kenneth Robinson, 18, were also involved, said Steele.

“This was a true family business,” said Weintraub. “And the product was illegally purchased firearms.”

Clayton Robinson said in a message found by detectives, “I’m not trying to end up in a tri-county tooling ring. Feel me.”

“That’s exactly what these individuals have done,” said Steele. “Tool” is slang for gun.

Clayton Robinson was found in possession of an illegal gun and “this led us to all of these other straw purchases,” he said.

As well as officers and detectives in Montgomery and Bucks Counties, investigators worked with the ATF, FBI, and Attorney General’s Office he said.

“We looked through the electronic record of sales (EROS) and ATF and Pennsylvania state gun sales forms,” he said. At gun stores, cellphone downloads, social media posts, and surveillance, he said.

The straw purchase buyers were allegedly Joseph Lynch, 25 of Morrisville, who purchased 17 guns between November 17, 2020, and March 15, 2021; Maurice Baker IV, 23, of Levittown, who purchased 12 guns between May 12, 2021, and December 31, 2021, and Brett Portner, 22, of Jenkintown, who bought five guns between Jan. 11, 2021, and Feb. 3, 2022.

“Straw purchases of guns for people not allowed to purchase them is dangerous, and is dangerous to our communities,” said Steele. “That is why we are emphasizing these investigations and will continue to investigate.”

Photographs of Clayton Robinson holding one of the guns and also a video of him grinding the serial number off of it were displayed.

“This (video) was made because he’s letting his customers know he’s taking the serial numbers off these guns,” said Steele.

“Quite frankly, we appreciate the very strong evidence he has provided to us,” said Steele.  Also, there was a text message from Clayton Robinson saying, “Come drop me off a pistol, too. I really got to stay dangerous.”

Steele asked anyone who knows where the other guns are to come forward before SWAT officers raid their homes. The guns can be turned in anonymously through their lawyers.

Weintraub said several of the firearms were found through car stops by police in Bensalem, Yardley, and Middletown and praised the “great police work” involved.

“Thank God for criminals who like to show off,” said Weintraub.

“The vast majority of these guns were purchased seemingly legally in Bucks County,” he said. But 28 guns “are still out there in the hands of criminals, who intend to terrorize, maim, hurt and kill. This is unacceptable…Something has to be done about this.”

“Fighting illegal gun trafficking is our top priority in Bucks County,” said Weintraub. “We are all in on this.”

Clayton Robinson, a suspect, removing a serial number from a gun.

Several gun stores in Bucks County had sold the guns to the straw purchasers and are cooperating with authorities, he said.

“This is a scourge. Drugs and guns go hand and hand and we know that” he said. “The combination is not only dangerous. It’s deadly. And it’s proliferating.”

Weintraub said a lot of law enforcement agencies are working together.

“It’s all hands on deck to eradicate this scourge,” he said.

Asked if the guns were used in other crimes, Steele said some were, including in Idaho and Massachusetts.

The suspects made small amounts of money or traded the guns for drugs, said Steele.

“This is people making not a lot of money, hundreds of dollars, and now they’re facing five-year mandatory sentences for a small amount of money and a small amount of drugs. If anyone thinks it’s worth it, they’re sadly mistaken,” Steele said.

“People were placing orders (for guns),” Steele added.

“The five men were operating a corrupt organization,” said Steele. “When you talk about straw purchases, individuals who can legally buy guns were buying them and putting them in the hands of criminals.”

When someone does this more than once it is a 5-year mandatory sentence under the Brad Fox Law, named for a police officer who was killed with a firearm bought through a straw purchase, said Steele.

The five men face multiple charges, including conspiracy, unlawful purchase of firearms, and criminal use of communication facilities, said Steele.

“We’ve got this epidemic of gun violence,” said Malloy. “When you think of Abington, Montgomery County being five short miles away from one of the most violent neighborhoods in our country and for us in Abington our officers during car stops are witnessing more guns…often it starts by good proactive policing.”

Abington Police had a search warrant for Robinson’s house and used a drone to find a gun that he had hidden on his roof, said Steele.

“Just because we haven’t tied any of these guns to any homicides, there is no doubt if we were not out there doing this work, then one of these guns would be responsible for taking the life of someone,” said Malloy.

Steele said if one of the trafficked guns is found to have been used in a homicide or shooting the sentencing judges for the defendants will be informed of that fact.

The affidavit of probable cause said the ring members were involved in a “gun trafficking operation.”

“The purpose of this corrupt organization was to illegally obtain and distribute numerous firearms to others,” it said. The ring members “conspired to purchase firearms illegally, making materially false statements on the application/record of sale and then illegally transferring the firearms.”

While most of the members of the straw purchase gun ring are in custody, authorities are seeking Lynch, who is on the lam and may be in Kentucky.

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DelVal Hit With Crime Wave

Comic Collection owner David Schwartz operated in Feasterville for decades without problems, until two masked men barged into his establishment last month while he was doing inventory.

One claimed to be searching for his wallet, but shocking footage showed one of the men swiping a ladder out from underneath the store owner’s feet with the ferocity of a linebacker as he reached for a statue on a shelf. Schwartz tumbled to the ground, cracking his ribs as the two men beat and kicked him, then bound him with zip ties. One brandished a knife, and the men demanded Schwartz instruct them how to open the cash register before stuffing about $16,000 worth of merchandise into duffel bags.

Before leaving the store, they lifted one final keepsake off Schwartz – a Mickey Mouse watch his father bought him as a boy. Luckily, a neighbor noticed the suspicious men and called police who rescued the store owner.

“I’m very happy that I’m here today to talk to you about this. I don’t want to see it happen to anyone else ever,” Schwartz said during a state House committee hearing convened last week by lawmakers raising alarms about crime infiltrating the suburbs of Philadelphia.

Law-enforcement officials from Bucks and Montgomery counties testified about a stark uptick in violent crime and property crimes and identified increasingly scary drug trends in other parts of the state. There were reports of fentanyl being packaged up like “Skittles and Razzles” along with another deadly drug, xylazine, known as “tranq,” that has overtaken Philadelphia’s heroin and fentanyl supply.

Some former prosecutors and law-enforcement officials attribute it to a “spillover effect” from Philadelphia, which set a record for homicides last year and has seen more than 1,000 carjackings in 2022.

“It’s the disorder in Philly. It’s an open-air crime market, and they’re not prosecuting any crimes. It’s the Kranser effect,” said Tom Hogan, former Chester County district attorney, referring to the city’s progressive DA who lawmakers are trying to impeach.

In Cheltenham, for example, the number of strong-armed robberies has doubled, Sgt. Michael Moore said. In Warrington, about 35 miles north of Philadelphia, Police Chief Dan Friel testified about a more than 360 percent spike in credit card frauds from last year, along with several robberies of the local Target. Many out-of-town fraudsters come to Warrington to commit crime knowing they’re less likely to be recognized.

Separately, Guy Ciarrocchi, a Republican running for Congress in Chester and Berks counties, told DVJournal about a carjacking at a Target in Devon, an armed robbery at a Whole Foods in Tredyffrin and a stabbing at a Bertucci’s on Lancaster Avenue in Wayne.

Grab-and-go shoplifters have targeted suburban stores like Lowes, Home Depot and Walmart, in part, law-enforcement officials say, because they’re viewed by criminals as “soft targets.”

“These guys are like our Border Patrol,” Rep. Frank Farry (R-Langhorne) said during the hearing of law enforcement’s efforts to contain the spread of violence.

It’s hard to determine whether crime is up statewide after the FBI transitioned to a new data collection system, called the National Incident-Based Reporting System. The FBI estimated that murders rose 4 percent nationwide compared with 2020 while overall violent crime was down about 1 percent. But the report was incomplete because thousands of law enforcement agencies hadn’t submitted data, according to the Marshall Project. Only 40 of more than 1,500 in Pennsylvania had done so.

In Bensalem, Public Safety Director Bill McVey said of the more than 3,800 crimes reported to his department in 2021, about 1,700 were serious offenses such as murder, rape and robber.

Crime was up about 12 percent from the previous year, and 42 percent of arrests in 2021 were people from Philadelphia, some out on bail for other crimes, McVey said.

Officials say the spike is due to several factors that included laxer prosecutions of certain crimes in the city, decriminalization of retail thefts under $500, lack of proactive policing that has hamstrung Philly officers and an increase in people who resorted to drugs to cope with mental health issues exacerbated by COVID-19.

“Crime is very real here,” Rep. Todd Polinchock (R-Chalfont) said at the hearing. “A lot of folks are worried for themselves, their kids. There’s a rash of crime going on now and we have to get ahold of it.”

Matt Weintraub, the Republican district attorney of Bucks County, claimed about 70 percent of crimes in in Bucks County were related  or fueled by drugs and alcohol.

With an influx of cases overwhelming local medical and jail systems, Weintraub has pushed for the county to build a crisis stabilization unit, dubbed “Stable U,” on land that could be acquired from a local health provider for $1. Local government officials so far secured $5 million toward the project, which needs another $5 to $7 million to get off the ground, Weintraub said.

“We’ve been knocking at the door. Let us be the guinea pigs,” he told legislators. “We mean business. We just need more funding.”

Others say solving crime in the region is tied to cracking down on repeat offenders.

Some law-enforcement officials voiced support for a proposal from Farry that would require mandatory minimums for convicted felons found with guns, with penalties starting off with 11 months in the slammer and increasing to five and 15 years for subsequent offenses.

Others blamed progressive policies they say handcuff police officers’  ability to prevent crime, such as Philly’s ban of minor traffic stops.

McVey said it’s one less tool for Philly cops. And it’s been an effective one for Buck County cops, who stop between 10,000 to 14,000 vehicles each year, often leading to discovery of other crimes, McVey said.

Gun seizures in the township are up 62 percent the last two years.

“Many of these guns are seized as a result of proactive measures which prevent shootings and tragedies from occurring,” McVey said.

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POINT: Who Are the Real Heroes?

For an alternate viewpoint, see: COUNTERPOINT: Elisha Dicken is a hero

Calling the young man who shot a mass shooter at a mall in Indiana a “hero” has deadly consequences. It’s not that the young man didn’t act heroically.  He did. He was also lucky. It’s that calling him a hero is dangerous. Giving massive publicity to a young shooter feeds our country’s horrific violent crime crisis.

It feels like good news when we focus on the prevented deaths. However, when we examine the big picture, the hero intervening encourages more guns to be bought, with significant negative consequences. It increases the likelihood of untrained citizens engaging in cowboy-style exchanges with often military-style armed individuals, causing innocent bystanders to be killed or injured in a prolonged battle. It takes control away from professional law officers and makes the distinction between the “bad guy” and the mass killer ambiguous.

The 22-year-old is not one of society’s heroes in the long-term sense of the word. Giving him this label has grave consequences. It encourages imitations, many of which will not turn out well.

Lives were saved in Indiana. We can be pleased with that. However, considering this a heroic deed feeds into the myth that it is smart and manly to own weapons built to kill other humans. It is not.

Imagine a world of would-be-armed heroes, some well-trained and most not, some with good aim and judgment, but most not. Picture yourself in a mall with your children caught in the crossfire of many armed citizens shooting from multiple directions. You’ve seen such episodes portrayed in cartoons, but there’s nothing funny or heroic here — just potential carnage.

We are currently awash with guns. The NRA, gun companies and retail gun stores are undoubtedly delighted over this young man’s behavior. It plays into their storyline and profits. Gun-promoting governors likely have a smile on their faces as well.

The young man’s actions coincide with the imagery of weapons manufacturers and the pro-gun lobby. For the gun manufacturers, his action will bring millions of dollars to an already bountiful business. Gun retailers, too, will be pleased. They benefit from a considerable supply of young men wrestling with their identity, youngsters vulnerable to the mythical power gun ownership provides.

The manufacturers and gun retailers tell buyers they can win the lottery of being a hero, a protector of loved ones and others.

The media played right into the hands of the pro-gun advocates. “Hero” and “Good Samaritan” filled television spots on the right and left, freely giving out the hero label. The local police chief called the young man’s action “nothing short of heroic.” Fox News described him as “a true American hero,” a ready-made quote for weapon companies. These remarks come as police chiefs across the country mourn the widespread availability of guns, tying it to the increase in violent crime.

The challenge of this “good news” of a mass killing interrupted is that it also conveys a ghastly myth that more Americans can be a hero carrying a gun. Gun manufacturers, retailers and conservative politicians will undoubtedly pounce on this perception for personal gain.

Here are a few facts these gun proponents will leave out in their promotion of the gun-toting hero. States with the highest gun ownership have the highest rates of gun violence, including the highest rates of deaths by guns. When gun ownership goes up, suicides and accidental deaths and gun injury increase. The Jim Brady website states, “Every day, 22 children and teens are shot in the United States.”

The Gun Violence Archive recorded 692 mass shootings last year and 356 through the first three weeks of July 2022. That’s 1,048 mass shootings. Where were the remaining 1,047 “heroes” to save the day? Heroes are not the answer. Changing our gun culture and restricting the number of guns that kill human beings is the only answer that makes sense.

We have no shortage of heroes. They are not on the front pages of our newspapers. They are in legislatures where men and women are attempting to reduce the number of handguns in our nation. They are the parents building up young men and women to be strong, not needing a weapon to give them an identity. They are the real heroes working to save lives.

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