Column: Gun-Violence Accomplices, in Congress?

Nearly four years after 11 congregants were slain at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Dr. Mehmet Oz is demonizing his Pennsylvania Senate rival from nearby Braddock for seeking the release of more convicts from prison. In the process, Oz unwittingly triggers thoughts of an advanced approach to confronting gun violence.

As lieutenant governor and chairman of the state pardons board, John Fetterman influenced a marked increase in commutations for inmates convicted of second-degree murder, which makes them accomplices, at least, of the person who actually commit the murder.

Could that apply to anyone down the line who knowingly aids and abets a murderer? Such as all members of Congress and state lawmakers who authorize the acquisition of murder weapons? Whenever a shooting occurs in their jurisdiction, should a prosecutor charge elected officials who refuse to tighten the laws that would block criminals from obtaining guns?

People have accused members of Congress – primarily Republicans – of having blood on their hands every time a victim is wounded or killed in a shooting spree. Only blood on their hands? Maybe we mean criminal negligence. Perhaps a case can be made that pro-gun members of Congress are accessories themselves.

Possibly that would give District Attorney Larry Krasner of Philadelphia reason to arrest John Lawrence and Martina White, two Republican Pennsylvania state representatives who demand that Krasner account for his performance, possibly to the point of impeachment. They claim his policies contribute to the gun violence that is ravaging the city.

Lawrence, from a Philadelphia exurb in Chester County, chaired a two-day hearing investigating Krasner last Thursday and Friday as residents in the city’s Roxborough section reeled from the shooting death of a 14-year-old boy and wounding of four other students at Roxborough High School. This past Saturday morning, two men were seriously wounded in a shooting – 1.4 miles from my residence in the once-quiet Northeast Philadelphia.

The clash over Philadelphia’s crime wave in the midst of the midterm elections makes one wonder: Whose performance is most culpable in facilitating crime? Fetterman for commuting sentences of inmates? Krasner for prosecuting fewer defendants for gun possession?

Or the Republican-controlled state House and Senate which refuses to strengthen Pennsylvania’s gun laws? These lawmakers or their friends in pro-gun organizations interfere whenever Philadelphia enacts policies to clamp down on gun violence.

Or Congress, of course, for failing to vote for gun-safety laws intended to prevent criminals from buying guns in states like Indiana and South Carolina and smuggling them into Chicago, New York City and other northern cities?

Oz and Fetterman are butting heads in their race for the Senate where partisan control should determine the fate of gun-safety laws. While Democrats have nominal control of the Senate, Republicans are able to stanch most legislation pushed by Democrats because of the filibuster. It requires 60 senators to advance legislation for a majority vote.

Two of the 50 Democrats refuse to vote to eliminate the filibuster, so Democrats need a net increase of two new senators to end the filibuster. Fetterman, who until the past week appeared to be a shoe-in, has pledged to vote to knock out the filibuster, but polls have since tightened.

In 2018, Fetterman traveled the eight miles or so from his adopted hometown of Braddock to the Tree of Life synagogue where he was pictured comforting a mourner.

His role as chair of the pardon board, one of his duties as lieutenant governor, ties into the indirect participation of lawmakers in shooting deaths.

After 27 years in state prison, two brothers who were convicted for a 1993 robbery and fatal shooting in Philadelphia were among a greater number of inmates recommended for clemency and release under Fetterman’s leadership, The New York Times reports.

The brothers, Lee and Dennis Horton, were convicted of second-degree murder, a charge filed against suspects who participate in such felonies as robbery, arson or rape that leads to a death. That covers accomplices not directly responsible for a fatality who drove a getaway car or acted as a lookout, according to the Times.

Pennsylvania is described as an outlier in requiring life without parole for second-degree murder. Reformers contend that it violates constitutional protections against unduly cruel punishments reports the Times. It is a matter of debate whether an accessory to murder should receive a finite sentence, such as the 27 years served by the Hortons, or life without parole. Still, they should be punished.

If lookouts and getaway drivers are accomplices in a shooting death, what does that say about participants in the supply chain? Those who sell guns on the street, those who purchase the guns in states with lax gun laws and rush them back to big cities, and those out yonder who sell them the guns.

Especially, let us remember the deep end of the supply chain – state legislatures where John Lawrence now serves and Congress which Oz wants to join, as his spokesman, Barney Keller, tells a Philadelphia Inquirer reporter, “Dr. Oz has surged in the polls because John Fetterman is the most pro-murderer candidate in America.”

If Fetterman is “pro-murderer,” what about Oz if he is elected to the Senate? On his campaign website, Oz dismisses gun-safety laws, stating, “Dr. Oz is a firm believer in the Second Amendment and our constitutional right to bear arms for protection. He opposes anti-gun measures like red flag laws and liberal gun grabs. Dr. Oz knows we cannot compromise our ability to protect ourselves.”

Right off the bat, the Senate authorized, but did not mandate, red-flag laws during the summer when enough Republican senators joined in voting for a weak gun-safety law. Oz needs to explain what he means by “liberal gun grabs” when contrasted with comprehensive background checks and strong limits or even bans on assault weapons.

Oz and Lawrence oversimplify the issue. Even if Fetterman or Krasner deserve the criticism, any change in their tactics will not make a dent in the shooting assaults.

The laws of Congress and many state legislatures make it incredibly easy for the wrong people to obtain guns to kill and wound people. Thorough gun-safety laws will likely lead to excessive reductions in gun violence. We cannot claim it as a panacea, but it will probably go a long way in saving lives.

What Congress and state lawmakers are doing is authorizing easy access to guns. They know that their inaction facilitates gun violence. They are told as much each time a high-profile shooting spree occurs. We can characterize that as criminal negligence which make them accessories.

If Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives can impeach Krasner, which is also debatable, perhaps Krasner can employ his powers by arresting state lawmakers and members of Congress. The question is whether their inaction that allows easy access to guns can technically be listed as a crime.

In real time, these elected officials certainly make gun violence so possible. They are every bit as responsible for gun-violence as a getaway driver. They clear the highway to the crime scene of most speed bumps.

As GOP state Rep. Martina White of Northeast Philadelphia reminds us, as quoted in the Inquirer, “It is time that (Krasner) really pays attention to what the people of Philadelphia want. They want criminals held accountable, and they want it to start now.”

They also want to deprive criminals of the weapons. So far, White and Lawrence show no signs of wanting the same.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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