You cover crime and courts long enough you start to know which cases are going to get the most attention.
A homicide — especially if the victim is an innocent bystander shot by some loser with a gun? Boom. Packed courtroom. Family and friends of the deceased by the dozens. Reporters everywhere. Outrage, calls for action.
Just another neighborhood menace caught holding or selling an illegal gun? Usually, crickets.
Usually, because these days CeaseFirePA is organizing advocates, residents and cops to show up to otherwise sleepy sentence hearings to send one very powerful message: Just because no one was shot, doesn’t mean there’s no victim.
Way too often, CeaseFirePA’s Max Nacheman says, sentencing hearings for someone charged with illegally possessing or selling a gun go something like this:
On one side, there’s the defense attorney, his ever-remorseful client and a group of the bad boy’s closest family and friends pleading with the judge on his behalf: He’s had a tough life, your honor. He’s learned his lesson, your honor. He’s ready to turn his life around, your honor. He means it this time.
On the other side, one lone prosecutor representing the city of Philadelphia and the residents threatened every single day by illegal guns and the bloody havoc they wreak. “It’s not because people don’t care,” Nacheman says. “It’s because they don’t know.
“A lot of times when people and judges think about these cases it seems like victimless crimes because nobody was shot, nobody was murdered,” he said. “But the reality is that when someone carries an illegal gun down the street, the entire neighborhood is victimized because you never know what’s going to set somebody carrying an illegal gun off and once they start firing who knows who’s going to be hit. It could be someone sitting on the porch, it could be someone crossing the street.”
It could be you.
So CeaseFirePA has started going into the neighborhoods where a person was caught with an illegal gun and asking advocates and residents to show up to court to send a message that, fired or not, illegal guns have a lasting impact on the community.
So far, it’s working. At the last hearing CeaseFirePA and supporters atteneded, the defendant was sentenced to a hefty four to eight years behind bars. Yeah, I’d say that guy, and hopefully others, got the message that day.
You know what else happens when you’ve covered crime and courts long enough? You start to groan at all the played-out approaches to dealing (or not) with the chronic violence plaguing most American cities.
But this one’s got some promise. So does a bill that calls for imposing a mandatory five-year prison sentence on any felon caught carrying a weapon.
You listening, Harrisburg?