The slow twitch of my imaginary handlebar mustache....
"The communities that I represent in Philadelphia are very different than many other communities across this commonwealth. In other parts of the state, they hunt animals; in Philadelphia, guns are used to hunt people."

-- Philadelphia's State Representative Angel Cruz

Notwithstanding Representative Cruz's divisively stereotypical remarks, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, surrounded as it is by farming communities, Amish people with their buggies, and beautiful scenery, is normally thought of as a quaint sort of place not plagued with urban crime.

And no one in his right mind would want it to be otherwise.

So, it's understandable that yesterday's front page Inquirer story about "gun violence" in Lancaster would draw lots of attention. The Inquirer wants its readers to believe that guns now commit crimes in Lancaster, and in other smaller cities. The problem is not urban violence spreading to the country; it's obviously the guns that have always been there.

Well, maybe guns in the hands of the "wrong people":

If you think this is another story about Philadelphia violence, think again. These cases, which happened in Lancaster and York this year, are among a troubling number of gun crimes touching Pennsylvania's smaller cities.

Compared with Philadelphia, where gunfire has claimed 133 lives this year, the number of shootings in Pennsylvania's next-tier cities is far lower. But the volatile mix of illegal handguns, illicit drugs, and a quick-twitch culture in which minor beefs turn fatal is a common concern.

A "quick-twitch" culture in which people shoot each other over nothing? Doesn't sound like the Amish to me. Nor does it sound like rural property owners.

Sounds more like a hardened criminal culture. Anyway, there have been two killings this year:

"We are not like the inner cities. They see multiple gunshot wounds every day. But in terms of frequency, the frequency is going up. Where we used to see one or two [gunshot victims] a month, now we see one or two a week," said William Adams, 44, medical director of the emergency department at Lancaster General Hospital. "Over the past 10 years we have seen about a fourfold increase."

The city of Lancaster, population about 60,000, had one homicide in 2005. Last year it had seven. So far this year it has had two.

Behind those numbers are worries about what some residents describe as the frequent pop of gunfire and the fear of encountering armed troublemakers on the street.

"Half the time I don't even come out at night," said Eric Fair, 36, a Friendly's store clerk who lives in a a tough section of Lancaster. Underscoring the prevalence of illegal weapons, Fair added that the 20-year-old grandson of the woman in whose house he lives was recently arrested for having a gun.

"There are just too many guns in the hands of the wrong people," says Lancaster Mayor J. Richard Gray, a strong supporter of Gov. Rendell's initiatives.

This mayor has teamed up with a bunch of other mayors to "fight" the evil NRA, which is pictured (coincidentally?) in today's Inquirer cartoon as an evil cowboy standing nonchalantly over a Keith Haring style display of dead bodies chalk-marked on the barroom floor.

The cartoon doesn't seem to have made it into the Inquirer's -- or Auth's -- web site, so I photographed it:

Auth_Inq_06_05.jpg

I'd be inclined to resent the stereotype that's being invoked by that cartoon, but when you've been resenting as many stereotypes as I have for as many decades as I have, resentment is so tired as to be almost beside the point.

For the record, I might as well point out that I am not a cowboy, I don't own or wear a cowboy hat (no chaps or spurs either), and I don't hunt. Nor do I wave guns nonchalantly over people lying dead in the street.

Oh, almost forgot! I also don't have a handlebar mustache! But in the interest of full disclosure, my favorite artist, Salvador Dali, did.

I also try not to be "quick-twitch" in my approach. Usually, I think these things over, and tend not to write about them until the resentments subside and I can be more logical. Hence, the long winded posts.

And it is my considered opinion that the Inquirer and Tony Auth are being a little "quick-twitch" in their approach.

Hmm... maybe "quick-draw" is a better term.

The article recites the various gun control measures which the small town mayors want (the latest meme is a push for local gun control), and arguments in opposition to the measures are labeled "NRA talking points":

"From Scranton to Carlisle, York to Philadelphia, and Lancaster to Pittsburgh, our mayors know firsthand the devastation that illegal guns and straw purchasers are having in our neighborhoods," [Governor Ed] Rendell said last month. "This is not just a Philadelphia or Pittsburgh problem."

Straw purchases, in which someone buys weapons in bulk, often from a licensed firearms dealer, and then distributes them on the black market, are a particular concern in Lancaster.

"Most of the guns seized in Lancaster are not stolen guns," Gray said. "They are purchased and then dispersed" through illegal channels.

Rendell called on legislators to stand up to the influence of powerful lobbyists for the National Rifle Association and enact "commonsense" gun laws.

"A lot of us are saying, 'Enough. We've had it,' " Gray said.

Many state legislators, on the other hand, particularly those from rural counties where hunters predominate, are disinclined to change the gun laws, Gray said.

York Mayor John Brenner, another Democrat who supports more restrictions on handgun sales, said major change was unlikely soon.

"I don't think we're at the tipping point yet," he said, noting that in York County gun issues were divisive with legislators, all but one of whom are Republicans, generally "talking the NRA talking points."

While I realize that anything I might say to these people will be casually dismissed as an "NRA talking point" (another ad hominem stereotype I've seen before -- as tired as it is illogical), an article in today's paper speaks volumes about the problems which are emerging in Pennsylvania's small towns (and maybe in other small towns).

Big city criminals are on the loose. And (surprise!) they do not stay in big cities.

As it turns out, the police made an arrest in the recent spate of Lancaster shootings. Despite yesterday's front page story, the story appeared on page B-5. Little wonder, because you don't have to be a gun-toting NRA maniac with a handlebar mustache to read between the lines and see that what's being called small town gun violence isn't necessarily as small townish as it appears. The arrested man was a career criminal from Philadelphia:

Mark Q. "Mustafa" Galloway, 39, of South Philadelphia, shot his girlfriend, her mother, daughter, 2-year-old grandson, and a family friend shortly after 6 a.m. outside a Lancaster rowhouse, authorities said.

Police believe the shooting stemmed from a dispute between Galloway and his girlfriend, Tameka Rodriguez.

Witnesses told police the two began dating last summer.

"The defendant stated, 'I did it,' and asked, 'How's Tameka doing?' " when interviewed at the prison, according to the arrest affidavit. He later admitted to all five shootings, police said.

The shooting underscored a growing concern about gun violence in smaller Pennsylvania cities that prompted some mayors, including the mayor of Lancaster, to speak out recently in support of tougher handgun laws. (Emphasis added.)

What about the gun that did it (or that made him do it)? It turns out that not only was this a convicted felon in illegal possession of a firearm, who had served time for pervious weapons offenses, but the firearm itself was illegal:
The suspected weapon, a 9mm semiautomatic handgun with an altered or obliterated serial number, was recovered from a trash can.

Philadelphia court records show that Galloway was sentenced to three to six years in prison on drug and weapons charges in 1995. Last month, the courts dismissed charges that he had assaulted and terrorized someone because of "lack of prosecution."

Yeah, but it's all the fault of the gun. It made this ex-con possess it, and file the serial numbers off, and shoot people.

I can't prove my suspicions, but I do think that the push to blame guns is related to the chronic inability of the legal system to put such guys away. (A situation I think is aided, abetted, and aggravated by a well organized movement against putting anyone away).

Anyway, the story has been widely reported nationally, and because it directly touched on the issues raised in yesterday's anti-gun piece, I thought it deserved more prominent treatment than it got in the Inquirer.

But at least it was in there as an AP story. In the Local News section. Hey, no one is perfect, least of all me.

Tell you what. I'll even try harder to slow down the twitching of my imaginary handlebar mustache when I shoot off my "NRA talking points."

UPDATE: My thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link, and a warm welcome to all.

It's probably worth noting for new readers that this is not my first post about anti-gun bias at the Philadelphia Inquirer.

As a matter of fact, I have been blogging about the Philadelphia Inquirer's gun control positions for so long that I have lost count of the number of posts. (But that partial list is a start.)

posted by Eric on 06.05.07 at 08:58 AM










Comments

Eric:
Good post. I am from Philly and never hear them point out the number of these straw purchases. I think pols just have to blame something and gun laws are convenient target.

It would be great is a high-profile, respected athlete or celeb would stand up and blame the thug culture as the main cause of the high murder rate.

AJ Lynch   ·  June 5, 2007 12:31 PM

Mr Galloway seems to have broken a raft of state and federal laws prior to shooting his girlfriend and, aparently, anyone within range. Perhaps we need to ask authorities why they failed to apprehend this criminal on those charges before we start to take guns from people who had nothing to do with Galloway's rampage

Jeffersonian   ·  June 5, 2007 12:53 PM

Once again, as Confucius taught, without rectification of names, there can be no good government. We must be ready to call a spade a spade. This is a cultural problem, no more no less. Guns themselves, in the hands of the civilized, are at worst neutral and at best a deterrent to crime.

It is the sociopathic, disfunctional minority which can't handle the gun. They lack the inner and social control to deal with modern technology. They are bereft of the basic civic virtues of discipline, community and respect for the law which make lawful gun ownership practicable.

Now the mystery from this is that the savages are themselves the threat which makes the arming of civil society necessary. I am an armed Philadelphinn. I do not go to church in this town without something in my pocket. It might be a .45 or .44, but at the very least a .32 if I am dressed lightly. It is a strange way to live, scoping the treeline as one prepares to exit a car or storefront, or pausing before entering a covenience store to see if all is in order.

Without this protection, I would long ago have joined the many friends and relatives who have already hitched up their wagons and trekked forth. Thus the gun makes life in the city barely possible.

Lou Gots   ·  June 5, 2007 1:04 PM

There is a legitimate concern about bad guys legally buying guns and then selling them illegally to other bad guys, but the answer isn't to stop good guys from buying guns. All legal handgun purchases are recorded and a background check performed. Perhaps a true commonsense approach would set trip wires that prompt an investigation. I daresay the number of weapon purchases required to produce a turnoner rate at which reselling on the black market becomes profitable is significantly higher than the purchase rate of even the most ardent collector. In other words, have the cops do their job instead of relying upon a magic law that makes it unnecessary.

submandave   ·  June 5, 2007 1:24 PM

Is it just me, or does that cartoon fail to make any sense whatsoever?

I mean, the point of a good political cartoon is, through the use of dramatic irony, to take a statement that the figure in question would actually /say/ and present it in such a manner that it's meaning is opposite that intended. For this to work, the statement has to actually be believable in the context presented.

In the context presented, "This is dangerous! If it keeps up people will try to do something about it!" is both counter-productive to the message of the cartoon and a complete non-sequitur. The word "this" has no obvious reference. (Is the gunman implying that his own act of waving guns around is dangerous? It's obviously the authors intended meaning, but it's not something the gunman would say.) Further, because the statement is so completely out of character, any sense of dramatic irony is lost; the cartoon is simply unbelievable, and thus utterly fails to convey whatever message it is trying to get across.

Perhaps if the gunman had shouted something regarding his right to self-defense while waving a gun over a pile of corpses the cartoon would have actually served its purpose. As it stands, I can only consider it to be the work of another brain-dead wannabe artist hired solely because his politics support the prevailing view of the editors.

Jason   ·  June 5, 2007 1:26 PM

The 133 figure sounds like a lot although it seems to me Phillies population is in the 4-6 million range, but this construction "where gunfire has claimed 133 lives this year," is immediately suspect. How many of these are shot by police? Gotta be a good few, no? How many are self-defense? Unimportant? Of course it is to the anti-gunners who think thieves, rapist and Iranian dictators are all equally misunderstood Quakers beneath the skin and only the nasty NRA, viciously expecting the Constitution to still be in force after all these years, baits these gentle souls to violence.

megapotamus   ·  June 5, 2007 1:47 PM

I wait with bated breath for the day when the societal nannies have gotten their way and eliminated guns in America, and are now picketing outside a Husqvarna plant after a homocidal psychopath goes on a particularly nasty killing spree with a chainsaw. One that could've been easily ended by any citizen with decent aim and a handgun.

AM Edition   ·  June 5, 2007 2:10 PM

If we got rid of drugs there would be no gun problem.

If ew got rid of guns there would be no drug problem.

I know. Let's get rid of both.

Demon drugs. Demon guns. I see a connection.

M. Simon   ·  June 5, 2007 2:30 PM

If we stopped providing price supports for violent criminals (drug prohibition) perhaps we would have fewer violent criminals.

We do know that violence went down when Alcohol Prohibition ended.

M. Simon   ·  June 5, 2007 2:37 PM

I will start taking gun control advocates seriously when they also acknowledge criminals as equally dangerous as the guns they use. Thus, I am sure that these well-meaning persons will agree that such criminals are domestic terrorists, and those involved in drugs are also linked (in some way) with international drug rings - themselves terrorist organizations. Therefore said criminals get a one-way ticket to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba - never to be seen or heard from again. Problem solved. Or... are they not really serious about stopping crime? SURELY - they are not suggesting weak measures - why that is tantamount to condemning poor, often minority, persons to a death by criminals - why...that is RACISM! for SHAME!!!!

Californio   ·  June 5, 2007 3:00 PM

Eric wrote: "I can't prove my suspicions, but I do think that the push to blame guns is related to the chronic inability of the legal system to put such guys away."

I was called up for Jury Duty last week. The defendant had already pled guilty to Aggravated Robbery with a Deadly Weapon. During voir dire we were instructed that we would be deciding the sentence based on testimony and evidence presented over the next two or three days. After nearly two hours of questions to individual potential jurors, we were told that the punishment could go from probation to 99 years. When asked if anyone had a problem with that, I spoke up. I said that I did not think probation was an appropriate punishment since he'd already admitted guilt to a first degree felony...that he should do jail time. When a brief recess was called a few minutes later, I was called to the bench and dismissed by the judge. The defense attorney didn't even have a chance to object to my presence on the prospective jury.

Joanna   ·  June 5, 2007 5:46 PM

I live in a town that is right outside of Philly, but is a separate county altogether. I can testify that our local law enforcement, including judges, brag about how many people they put behind bars who are wandering the streets despite being charged with multiple crimes (and out on bond) in Philadelphia. It's a definite selling point for my neighborhood.

The city has a huge crime problem. The city is not serious about taking guns away from people who have them illegally, nor in locking up people who have committed crimes. It is not surprising that Lancaster is seeing the results.

Kimberly   ·  June 5, 2007 5:55 PM

Yet another reason why I won't allow the Inquirer or the Philly Daily News into my home. If you think that cartoon was disgusting, you should see the anti-Semitic filth they have printed idn the past.

Jim   ·  June 5, 2007 11:08 PM

Not that I disagree with a word you've said, it bears pointing out that Lancaster has some pretty scary inner city areas - it's not just rolling hills and Amish farmers.

david   ·  June 6, 2007 10:40 AM

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