Today, incoming Philadelphia DA Larry Krasner will join DAs and prosecutors from around the country in Washington, D.C., to sound off on pending federal gun control legislation. But with homicides on the uptick again at home, Krasner, a staunch progressive, said he’s still fleshing out what – if anything – he will do differently from his predecessors to address gun crime while in office.
“I think the answer to your question is that we're not sure yet. We’re still trying to pin down an answer, but we want to see data,” said spokesperson Ben Waxman. “We still plan on going after illegal guns, straw purchasers, gun shops that sell tons of weapons that wind up being used in crime, and folks who fail to report lost or stolen guns.”
The DA-elect made similar statements while on the campaign trail, emphasizing the need for crackdowns on gun shops and straw buyers. But Krasner was notably not the first pick for some local gun control advocates – the prominent anti-gun violence group CeaseFire PA didn't endorse anyone for DA, although candidate and former city managing director Richard Negrin sits on that group's board. The local Fraternal Order of Police, which views gun control as a potentially life-saving strategy for its membership, endorsed Negrin.
Negrin’s campaign rhetoric was not wildly different from Krasner’s – he emphasized increased background checks but similarly targeted the flow of illegal guns into Philadelphia. However, some of Krasner’s progressive criminal justice supporters have been critical of policies pursued under now-jailed DA Seth Williams that sought to jail more offenders over firearms violations.
Williams had pursued a strategy of “focused deterrence” – using data, dialogue with likely criminal offenders, increased bail and steep sentences for otherwise nonviolent firearms violations during his tenure to preemptively dissuade gun crime in high-violence areas.
“We tell them, ‘If anyone in your crew, if anyone in your gang commits a crime with a gun, we're going to hold your entire crew responsible,” Williams said when describing the strategy in 2016. “It's like a positive peer pressure. They say, ‘Whoa. Whoa, look. Don't do anything with a gun. Because that's gonna bring heat on us.’”
CeaseFire PA director Shira Goodman said her group wants some of these policies maintained – she didn’t want firearm violations pled out or dismissed early on in criminal cases. When asked about concerns that Krasner might curb Williams-era initiatives, Goodman said she felt confident that the DA-elect and her group were on the same page.
“We’re taking a bit of a wait-and-see approach. We haven’t seen anything yet that gives us great encouragement or pause,” Goodman said. “But a lot of survivors we work with have met with him and they felt strongly that he would take the issue seriously. I’ve met with Larry and I don’t see a conflict between criminal justice reform and combating gun violence. And he doesn’t, either.”
Krasner, who has represented those charged with firearm violations as a defense attorney, has frequently cited his support for a clerical group called Heeding God’s Call, which picketed gun shops with suspected ties to straw purchasers. At one point, he represented members of that group arrested for picketing one such shop.
The owner of one Philadelphia gun store said he was unaware of Krasner’s plans but seemed unsurprised they involved more attention paid to dealers. He declined to be quoted because he had “stopped talking to the news media.”
Homicides are up 15 percent over this time last year, with the body count expected to surpass 300 for the first time since 2012. Roughly 85 percent of these murders are committed with firearms, according to police department data.
Despite a stated focus on disrupting the supply chain of illegal weapons, Krasner said this is far from a complete solution.
“There are more guns than people...If you are going to stop 16-year-olds from picking up guns...They need a reason to not want to pick up a gun,” he said at a forum while campaigning for DA earlier this year. “The way they get that hope is by putting your money into education, into drug treatment.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Ceasefire PA had endorsed it board member Richard Negrin for DA. In fact, the group made no endorsement.