[author: Aaron Kase]
A man was arrested on the subway in Philadelphia last week carrying a bag full of drugs and weapons, including a partially disassembled AK-47. Jermal Ponds, 28, is being held for bail in what is one of the more high-profile events in the city’s ongoing struggle to control gun violence.
Under City Hall, on a packed rush hour train, a passenger alerted police that a man with a gun was on the subway. Two stops later, law enforcement officers boarded the train and found Ponds with his bag of goodies that included a loaded revolver, a 12-inch bayonet, a stash of Perocet and marijuana, $700 in cash and the assault rifle with the stock removed but 40 rounds in the clip.
It’s unclear whether the suspect planned to use the guns or not. He claimed that he was moving them from one house to another and that carrying them on the train was a “lapse in judgement.”
The lapse in judgement could cost him big time. He was charged with two major gun violations — carrying without a permit, and carrying in public in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania is an open carry state, meaning that in most places anyone can walk around in public with a gun showing. However, Philadelphia as a “city of first class” has a special restriction stating that a concealed carry license is required to carry a firearm be it concealed or openly.
“It’s illegal to possess a firearm even out in the open—like a rifle, shotgun, AK-47,” says Todd Henry, a criminal defense attorney in the Philadelphia area. “You could be in some other town and that might not be against the law. But it is against the law in Philadelphia.”
Complicating matters, Ponds was charged with several drug crimes including possession with intent to deliver. Unless he finds himself a really great lawyer, he might have sealed his fate for an extended stay behind bars. “If you posses a firearm in conjunction with a felony drug offense, that’s a mandatory 5 years,” Henry says.
Murders on the Rise
Fortunately, Jermal Ponds didn’t shoot anyone with his guns, but the city in general has had plenty of shooting to go around. Philadelphia has been host to 215 murders so far this year, most of them by firearm, and is easily on pace for homicides to rise for the fourth consecutive year. Public safety officials regularly call for more stringent gun laws. “I don’t care what the NRA says, they can kiss my butt,” District Attorney Seth Williams said after the subway arrest. “I don’t care. There’s no reason for a guy to have a gun like that.”
However, despite tough words the city has had essentially no success implementing tough laws. In 2007 the legislature passed a ban on assault weapons and a limit on handgun purchases, but the laws were struck down by a Pennsylvania provision that stated cities cannot set their own gun rules.
The laws might not matter, anyway, as it is widely acknowledged that most of the guns used to commit crimes are purchased illegally. While state law prohibits gun registration in Pennsylvania, handgun purchasers must pass a background check that shows they are not felons or have been adjudicated as mentally ill. However, the use of “straw-purchasing” to get around the restrictions is commonplace.
“What happens a lot of times is that I’m not eligible for a firearm, so I go to you and say hey, do me a favor, can you buy me a gun?” Henry explains. “That’s a big crime in a lot of big cities. How does a 16-year-old get a gun and kill someone? They’re able to buy the gun off the street from some of the illegal gun dealers.”
photo credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock