Former executive director of the gun control advocacy group CeaseFirePA Joe Grace is running for Philadelphia City Council. We sat down with Grace to discuss how guns and gun regulations impact Kensington.
You previously worked as the executive director of CeaseFirePA. Can you speak to the importance of gun control for Kensington specifically?
The best way to explain it is that a gun becomes an illegal gun when it’s used illegally, when somebody uses it to commit a crime, when somebody traffics it. A gun is sold on the streets for $500, $250 or $700. Anytime a gun is sold on the streets of Philadelphia or anywhere in Pennsylvania, it’s illegal. You can’t do it. You have to buy a gun at a registered dealer, or you can also buy firearms at gun shows as well in Pennsylvania. But for the most part, you have to buy a gun from a registered dealer and go through a background check. That’s federal and that’s state law. It’s to determine whether or not you have a conviction on your record. If you have a conviction on your record, you can’t buy a gun. That’s the law.
The vast majority of guns that are used in the commission of crime in Philadelphia –robberies, assaults, shootings, homicides – are committed by criminals with illegal guns in their hands. It’s not law-abiding citizens who bought a gun, were checked on a background check and then decided to go out and commit terrible gun crimes on the streets of Philadelphia. That might happen every once in awhile. That’s not the problem. The problem is the illegal trafficking of guns from criminal to criminal. For the people of Kensington, that’s at the root of the issue.
Again, police are doing as much as they can. There is a gun violence task force that works in concert with the D.A. and the police department. They go after illegal gun traffickers. CeaseFirePA developed a project with the D.A.’s office. When asked, I would go into court to give a gun violence impact statement to the judge before the judge sentenced a convicted trafficker of illegal guns.
I’m not doing it now because I’ve stepped aside from CeasefirePA to make this campaign for City Council. But I want to continue to fight for exactly the same things as a member of council. I want to make sure that the D.A.’s office has the appropriate level of funding to continue with that gun violence task force. The funding’s been cut, and I want to see to it that that funding gets restored so they can continue to do that kind of work.
We already have things we could do to get gun traffickers off the street. We have to strictly enforce the law. We have to make sure that the D.A. and the police department are fully funded to do the work that they want to do. And we really do need people in the bully pulpit advocating on how serious this issue is. And yes, even the people of Kensington and [Port] Richomond and Fishtown and Center City will benefit from stronger, reasonable statewide gun laws.