With Philadelphia’s murder pace at six deaths every seven days – most from gunshot wounds – police say part of the blame rests with people like Maurice Jackson. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that in 2001, Jackson, who had no arrest record, went to four area gun shops and bought nine semiautomatic handguns in just 10 days. That was perfectly legal. Then he turned them over to Tarum Gibbs, who had a record of drug and firearms violations dating back a decade. That was illegal. Jackson, 25, admitted in federal court that he was a “straw purchaser” – someone who buys guns and then resells them on the street. Gibbs is in jail after being involved in a shoot-out with city police.
Police Commissioner Sylvester Johnson has said that “straw sales” contribute to a flood of guns into Philadelphia and to the city’s murder rate. Last year’s rate was 23 per 100,000 residents, among the highest of any big city. “We have one of the most lenient handgun rules in the nation,” he said. “We have people buying 10 or 15 guns in one month at a time.” Since 1999, federal prosecutors in Philadelphia have indicted 233 people on charges of straw purchasing and related gun-trafficking crimes. More than 190 have pleaded guilty or have been convicted. Federal data suggest that the Philadelphia region might be particularly plagued by illegal trafficking of newly purchased handguns. Tracing 1,672 guns seized in 2000 by Philadelphia police, the ATF found that the “time-to-crime” for those weapons was one of the shortest in the nation. Only three states – Virginia, California and Maryland – place limits on multiple-handgun purchasers.