Philadelphia officials desperate to blame-shift responsibility for the crime control failures are suing firearm retailers.
Philadelphia is suing three firearm retailers – Frank’s Gun Shop Double Tap Shooting Range and Delia’s Gun Shop in Northeast Philadelphia, and Tanner’s Sports Center in Bucks County – alleging the businesses are participating in illegal straw purchases, an illicit criminal activity where an individual lies on the background check form that they are the actual purchasers and instead sells or transfers a firearm to someone who can’t or won’t be associated with the sale of a firearm.
Philadelphia City Law Department officials say that these stores are knowingly participating in the illegal straw purchases because firearms recovered at crimes have been traced back to sales originating at these stores. That allegation might play well to gun control groups and politicians but is devoid of any legal foundation. The crime of an illegal straw purchase is committed by the individual lying on the form, a crime that NSSF has been actively warning the public against committing.
Know the Difference
City officials are attempting to confuse and mislead the public between what is a legal sale and illegal purchase of a firearm. Every firearm sold at retail by a licensed dealer requires the purchaser to complete an ATF Form 4473, which includes the buyer’s signature attesting they are the actual purchaser (the true intended recipient) of the firearm. That purchaser’s information is then verified by the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). Except in Pennsylvania, this is verified by the Pennsylvania Instant Criminal Background Check System (PICS) because the state is a point-of-contact (POC) state that conducts their own background checks through the Commonwealth’s state police.
This happens for every firearm sold at retail. Pennsylvania also requires universal background checks for all handgun transfers including those between private parties.
The firearm industry has partnered with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and Department of Justice (DOJ) for more than 20 years in the “Don’t Lie for the Other Guy” public awareness campaign. These efforts include blanketing cities selected by the ATF with advertising reminding the public that lying on a Form 4473 and committing the crime of an illegal straw purchase of a firearm carries up to a 15-year prison sentence and a $250,000 fine.
NSSF just hosted one of these month-long public awareness campaigns in Philadelphia in June of 2022. It was the sixth time since at least 2009 that NSSF, along with ATF and DOJ, brought the campaign to a Pennsylvania city and the second time it was held in Philadelphia.
The City of Philadelphia’s Law Department is basing their lawsuit on the shakiest of foundations. City officials argue that multiple sales of firearms are suspect, which isn’t true. Individuals can purchase multiple firearms at the same time. That has never been illegal in Pennsylvania. The same procedures apply if someone buys just one firearm a year or if they purchase multiple firearms at once. Fill out the Form 4473, sign it, run the PICS check.
It’s the Crime, Stupid…
City officials also argue that firearm retailers should know that “gun-related crimes are a directly foreseeable consequence” of their sales. That’s ludicrous. Background checks for firearm sales topped over 1 million per month for four years running, in part because Americans are refusing to be victims of crime. That’s the case in Philadelphia where Brenda Adams is among a group of women training with “Terry’s Angels” to learn to safely and effectively use a legally-owned firearm because crime is out of control.
“Carjackings, murder, it scared me,” Adams said in a CBS News report. “I’ve been living in Philadelphia almost 64 years and I’ve never seen anything like this. That’s why I carry a gun.”
Adams isn’t wrong to be worried. So far in 2023, there have been 255 homicides in the city. There were 516 in 2022. In 2023, there have been over 900 shooting victims. Those are staggering figures but don’t expect city officials to hold criminals to account.
George Soros-backed District Attorney Larry Krasner’s response to Philadelphia’s rampant crime was to lash out for more gun control, not criminal control.
“Finally, I just want to say this: it is disgusting, the lack of proper gun legislation that we have in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” DA Krasner said at a press conference immediately following the tragic shootings and before facts were gathered. This is despite the fact the Brady gun control report card gives Pennsylvania a Top 10 spot in America for states with the strictest gun control laws. Everytown for Gun Safety ranks it at Number 15 and Giffords’ gun control gives it the same – 15 out of the 50 states with an added “B-” for good measure.
DA Krasner’s posturing is ironic. State legislators – elected by voters – successfully voted to impeach him last year for his abysmal record of keeping the public safe and holding criminals to account for their crimes. The Pennsylvania Senate failed to convict him, which would have required a two-thirds vote.
Mayor Cut Police, Demands Lawsuit
Philadelphia’s Mayor Jim Kenney isn’t any better. He oversaw the Sheriff’s Office that “lost” more than 200 firearms but makes outlandish claims like, “You can say you back the blue but if you don’t back gun control and gun availability, you don’t back the blue.”
This is the same Mayor Kenney that allowed a cut of $33 million to kowtow to the “defund the police” efforts that decimated the city’s police force. He’s the same mayor who responded to criminals murdering two Philadelphia police officers by telling media, “I’m waiting for something bad to happen all the time. So I’ll be happy when I’m not here, when I’m not mayor, and I can enjoy some stuff.”
Harry Hurley, a columnist for WPG Radio published a column last year headlined, “Philadelphia, You Have Mayor Kenney & DA Krasner To Thank …” In it, he wrote, “When you create a lawless environment, this is exactly the result that you should expect.”
Mayor Kenney proclaimed that he would sue firearm retailers and now he’s made good on his threat. It seems he thinks it is more expedient to blame a business that didn’t commit a crime than the criminal that does. The problem is Mayor Kenney and his city hall lawyers are glossing over the fact that individuals commit the crime of straw purchases. It isn’t an illegal sale.
The business isn’t to blame for the criminal lying on the form and illegally transferring a firearm to a prohibited individual. Tracing a firearm from a crime scene back to a retailer doesn’t demonstrate that retailer ran afoul of the law. It is why Congress wisely passed legislation that bars trace data from being admitted as evidence – because it isn’t evidence. Over 90 percent of federal convicts in prison for committing a crime admit they obtained that firearm through illicit means. That’s through the black market, theft or trading on a street corner.
Philadelphia is more interested in doing the bidding of gun control supporters and clogging the courts with baseless lawsuits. Instead, they should join the work that NSSF, the ATF and DOJ are doing to prevent illegal straw purchases and lock up the criminals that commit these crimes.
Larry Keane is SVP for Government and Public Affairs, Assistant Secretary and General Counsel of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.