Taking Aim at the NRA, Philadelphia DA Vows Crackdown on Illegal Guns

District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office will prosecute cases in which gun owners fail to report lost or stolen guns.

What to Know

  • Philadelphia's DA is vowing to enforce a decade-old law that penalizes people who fail to report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours.
  • The law says that any gun owners who don't report lost or stolen guns within 24 hours will be fined $2,000 and face 90 days in jail.
  • Past districts attorney have been reluctant to enforce the measure.

While lambasting what he characterized as his predecessors' ulterior motives and their tendency to kowtow to the National Rifle Association, Philadelphia's District Attorney took aim Wednesday at people who buy guns for others who can't legally own them.

District Attorney Larry Krasner said his office will use a decade-old but barely enforced law to prosecute cases in which gun owners fail to report lost or stolen guns. Anyone who breaks this law will face a $2,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail.

In a fiery hour-long news conference, Krasner also took aim at the NRA, past Philadelphia district attorneys, the federal government, the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature and the state Attorney General.

"A lot of the guns that are claimed to be lost and stolen never were; they were sold illegally and they end up in the hands of people who commit crimes," Krasner said.

The district attorney painted a vivid picture of gun owners who have purchased up to 20 guns and who had at least one of those firearms traced to crimes. He called claims that those guns were all lost or stolen "bogus."

Kimberly Burrell, whose 18-year-old son was gunned down in 2009, backed up Krasner's assertion. Her son's killer, she said, got ahold of his gun through a so-called straw purchase, whereby someone who is not legally allowed to buy a gun obtains one through a middleman. Her own son was carrying a gun attained through a straw purchase at the time of his death.

"The community hurts when guns are not being accounted for," Burrell said.

The law in question has been in the books since 2009 and dictates that anyone whose gun was lost or stolen must report it to police within 24 hours. Failing to call 911 to report the gun lost or stolen will earn its owner a $2,000 fine. On the second offense and any subsequent offenses, they will be fined the $2,000, as well as get a 90-day jail sentence.

While he emphasized that the city and state Attorney General's Office have worked collaboratively to enforce gun laws, Krasner obliquely criticized the office for its reluctance to participate in enforcing this particular law. "They have declined to participate in this effort," Krasner said, refusing to elaborate.

In a statement, the Attorney General's Office pushed back, highlighting its role in running the Gun Violence Task Force in Philadelphia and increasing illegal gun seizures by 36 percent last year.

The statement also referenced Attorney General Josh Shapiro's 2008 vote for a statewide lost or stolen handgun reporting law and his continued belief that "such a law is smart policy, would protect municipalities and would help to combat the scourge of gun violence in our communities."

Touting his own hunter safety certificate, as well as that of his children, Krasner called the Philadelphia law "reasonable." "This is not something that regulates guns, it doesn't even regulate gun owners," he said.

Backers of the new enforcement measures include City Council President Darrell L. Clarke - who helped enact the 2009 law - and Police Commissioner Richard Ross. "This is important to us. This is one of those things that we believe will help us," Ross said.

But past district attorneys have been hesitant to enforce the ordinance.

Krasner sharply criticized those district attorneys, calling "disingenuous" claims that they were refusing to enforce the law due to concerns over its constitutionality. Instead, Krasner argued, those district attorneys might have had political ambitions and were afraid to run afoul of the National Rifle Association.

"There certainly is a long history of prosecutors in the United States making decisions that were political and specifically about their own politics, their own career advancement," Krasner said. "We are living in a state where it has long been believed that in order to run statewide, you have to be good with the NRA."

The NRA has repeatedly filed lawsuits opposing gun control measures throughout the country. It was unclear if the group will be pursuing a suit against the Philadelphia law, but Krasner said he could see such a legal fight in the horizon.

"You are going to hear that loud screeching noise, that sound of a broken engine," he said. "And yes, it is really true that the NRA is a broken engine in our United States, that it is completely out of touch, and its foolishness is out of touch with what people who appropriately handle and own guns believe."

Clarke also said the city is prepared to defend the constitutionality of the law.

The NRA did not immediately return a request for comment.

Krasner promised people a 30-day "amnesty" period during which they will be allowed to report their lost or stolen guns without facing a fine or jail time.

Despite characterizing the law as a positive step toward reducing gun violence, Krasner also said more needs to be done by lawmakers.

"What we really need is the Pennsylvania Legislature to stand up, and the United States government to stand up, to the NRA and do the right thing."

Contact Us