Pa. initiative targets the biggest pipeline for illegal guns — women

With tear-filled eyes, Mothers in Charge Executive Director Dorothy Johnson-Speight joins Pennsylvania Attorney Genteral Josh Shapiro to announce grant funding for Operation LIPSTICK, aimed at educating women about the dangers of straw purchases. Johnson-Speight's son was killed with a gun purchased by the shooter's girlfriend

With tear-filled eyes, Mothers in Charge Executive Director Dorothy Johnson-Speight joins Pennsylvania Attorney Genteral Josh Shapiro to announce grant funding for Operation LIPSTICK, aimed at educating women about the dangers of straw purchases. Johnson-Speight's son was killed with a gun purchased by the shooter's girlfriend. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Without ever pulling the trigger, women play a hidden, but significant, role in gun violence in Philadelphia and across the country.

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro says women account for 80% of all straw purchases nationally. His office is funding a $123,000 grant aimed at reducing these illegal gun purchases.

“We all know that you can’t buy a 6-pack of beer for an underage kid, but too few people know that you can’t buy a gun for a felon or a prohibited purchaser because if you do, it’s a crime,” he said.

The money will go to the groups Operation LIPSTICK and Mothers in Charge to spread awareness of the causes and effects of these transfers.  LIPSTICK — which stands for Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killing — currently runs a similar program in Boston. LIPSTICK executive director Tamia Rashima-Jordan said the program is seeing some success.

Women may be paid, coerced or simply unaware of what it means to buy a gun on behalf of someone unable to buy one themselves. In a single transaction, a woman with a clean criminal record can buy multiple guns that are then used to commit crimes. The program aims to both make women aware that they can go to jail for such purchases, and of the consequences of those purchases on their communities.

In 2012, Pennsylvania increased penalties against straw purchasers, putting in place a five year minimum sentence for people convicted of multiple illegal transfers. Straw purchases are the number one way guns fall illegally into criminal’s hands, said Shapiro.

Dr. Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder and executive director of Mothers in Charge, has felt the effects of these purchases first hand.

“I sat in the courtroom…and heard the girlfriend of the shooter of my son talk about how she went to a local gun store, right outside of Philadelphia, and purchased a gun for him,” she said.

In Philadelphia alone, the Attorney General and District Attorney’s offices open a combined average of 25 new straw purchase cases every month.

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