In June 1998, the National Rifle Association held its national convention in Philadelphia. The NRA met at the city’s convention center, which was only blocks from where the Founding Fathers gave birth to our freedoms, a fact noted by legendary actor Charlton Heston, who was elected president of the NRA during the convention.
“This is where it all started,” Mr. Heston told the gathering in his powerful and gripping voice. “Right here in Philadelphia.”
I covered the convention for a local newspaper and sitting in a front row, I saw Mr. Heston give his rousing speech. In the speech he presented a challenge to President Clinton — enforce the full range of existing gun laws as they pertain to criminal offenses and forgo any new gun controls that penalize law-abiding gun owners, an idea that was called Project Exile. Pick a city, Mr. Heston said, and test the zero tolerance of illegal gun use.
“For years the NRA has demanded that Project Exile be deployed nationwide,” Mr. Heston said. “The laws are already on the books. Just enforce them.”
Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, agreed with Mr. Heston and offered Philadelphia as a test city. But Mr. Clinton did not accept the challenge.
On Aug. 8, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro held a press conference in Philadelphia and announced a joint effort between the attorney general’s office and city and federal law enforcement to act with an unprecedented level of cooperation to target illegal gun trafficking in Philadelphia.
The announcement was held at a recreation center in a section of South Philadelphia that has seen more than its share of gun violence. Mr. Shapiro was joined by Don Robinson, special-agent-in-charge for the Philadelphia division of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF); Richard Ross, police commissioner of Philadelphia; and Larry Krasner, district attorney of Philadelphia. Also in attendance was Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney, Jennifer Williams, first assistant U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, and local officials.
“More information-sharing and stronger collaboration is critical to effective law enforcement operations, particularly when it comes to targeting criminals who traffic in illegal guns and plague our communities,” Mr. Shapiro said. “We’re proud of the work that our Gun Violence Task Force has done already in Philadelphia, and working together with our city and federal partners, we know there is much more we can do to combat gun violence and help make our communities safer.”
According to Mr. Shapiro, the attorney general’s Gun Violence Task Force, a city-state partnership that has Office of Attorney General agents working alongside Philadelphia police and the DA’s office, has been targeting illegal gun traffickers for more than a decade. In that time, reporters were told, the task force has recovered 2,438 illegal guns and arrested 1, 439 perpetrators involved in straw purchasing, gun trafficking and related criminal activity, with a conviction rate of nearly 80 percent. In 2008, the task force recovered 80 illegal guns, made 75 arrests and opened 328 investigations.
Mr. Shapiro noted that recently his office, the Philadelphia police and the DA’s office reached an agreement with the Philadelphia ATF Division to share more information and conduct joint investigations into illegal gun trafficking. Investigative teams made up of one ATF agent, one Office of Attorney General agent and one Philadelphia detective work together to coordinate gun violence. Specifically targeted are straw purchasers
“This joint initiative is a perfect example of ATF’s dedication to working with our state, local and federal partners in identifying, targeting, and investigating violent criminals who prey upon innocent citizens and lessen the quality of life in our neighborhoods,” said ATF Special-Agent-in-Charge Donald Robinson.
Philadelphia Police Commissioner Ross also weighed in, stating that the collaborative effort will further the over-arching mission to prevent and reduce violence crime.
With Democratic state and city officials and Trump administration Justice Department officials working together, this is a bipartisan effort. But the bipartisan spirt was somewhat dashed when Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner took a shot at the NRA.
Mr. Krasner, who has been accused of being more interested in advancing radical change in the justice system than actually locking up criminals and protecting the public, laid the blame for all gun violence on the NRA. He said the NRA bullied people with their money. This was an odd accusation coming from a man who became the DA in large part thanks to the generous financial support of leftist billionaire George Soros.
So, as the late Charlton Heston suggested in 1998, let law enforcement pursue aggressively criminals who use illegal guns and let legal gun owners keep their right to defend themselves.
• Paul Davis is a writer who covers crime, espionage and terrorism.