A Philadelphia man admitted this week that he purchased the gun used to kill Plymouth Township Police Officer Bradley Fox in September.
Michael Henry could face a lengthy prison sentence for buying the firearm and eight others for the officer’s killer, Andrew Thomas. Thomas, who killed himself after shooting Fox, had a criminal record and therefore could not buy a gun legally.
Fox’s murder was a high-profile case, prompting state lawmakers to create a measure that imposes a stricter sentence for individuals convicted of multiple straw purchases.
But local law enforcement officers in and around Philadelphia also strive to prosecute straw purchasers no matter what.
In 2006, the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office launched the Gun Violence Task Force.
The goal of the initiative is simple, but challenging: cut the supply of illegal guns on city streets. Cracking down on straw purchases is a big part of the effort.
Since launching the task force, the district attorney’s office has arrested 822 suspected straw purchasers, convicting about 90 percent of them, according to spokeswoman Tasha Jamerson.
David Kairys, a constitutional law professor who closely studies straw purchases, said that figure is still just a drop in the bucket.
“It’s really good that they’re prosecuting whoever they caught and it’s a really good thing that different law enforcement agencies are working together,” said Kairys. “What they could really use is an additional tool, which in this case, on this issue, is a straw-purchasing crime that’s clearly defined and has a substantial penalty.”
Preferably, said Kairys, a law on the federal level.
Tom Hogan, district attorney in Chester County, said his office doesn’t handle a lot of straw-purchase cases, but noted that they’ve always been a priority when they come up. He’s pleased that local law enforcement now has more power to prosecute offenders.
In October, Gov. Tom Corbett singed Act 199, known as “The Brad Fox Law.”
The measure sets a minimum five-year prison sentence for anyone convicted of multiple straw purchases.
“This simply gives us, as state prosecutors, more power,” said Hogan. “We actually have a greater penalty to impose than federal prosecutors do for straw purchasers. So I think you will see a shift in straw-purchasing prosecutions to more of the DA’s offices and away from the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”