PENNSYLVANIA — Reps. Craig Williams (R-Chester/Delaware) and Martina White (R-Philadelphia) have re-introduced legislation to formally create a Gun Violence Task Force (GVTF) to prosecute prior-convicted felons in possession of firearms in Philadelphia.
House Bill 2275 was previously passed by the House in 2022 with an overwhelming bipartisan vote (151-49). This legislation statutorily establishes the GVTF, which will be headed by the Office of the Attorney General and includes the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office, the Philadelphia Police Department and every local law enforcement agency in the city. The United States Attorney’s Office and federal law enforcement agencies are also invited members of the task force. The sole task of the GVTF is to review every arrest of a prior-convicted felon in possession of a gun (which is both a state and a federal crime) for prosecution.
“Violence in Philadelphia is out of hand. Most people do not know it is a crime for a previously convicted felon to possess a gun in any form or manner. Violent crime is overwhelmingly committed by prior felons. Aggressively prosecuting felons for possessing guns will have a dramatic and immediate impact on decreasing violent crime,” said Williams. “By giving the Attorney General’s office concurrent jurisdiction and inviting the United States Attorney to engage with the task force, we will send a loud message to the criminal element: We are enduring this no longer and are united in our fight.”
“Between 2018 and 2022, there was a drastic increase in gun violence, with an astounding 9,781 individuals shot in the city. Of these shooting incidents, 2,041 proved fatal,” said White. “Philadelphians deserve to be safe. Philadelphians deserve to have the law enforced in their home communities. Rep. Williams and I are committed to giving all law enforcement and all prosecutors the tools they need to fight for us.”
Law enforcement in Philadelphia will be required to report every arrest of a felon in possession of a gun to the task force. The members of the task force will review the facts and circumstances of the arrest and the criminal history of the defendant to determine the best forum in which to prosecute the crime of unlawful possession of a gun by a prior-convicted-felon.
Williams is a former federal prosecutor with the U.S. Department of Justice (U.S. Attorney’s Office) and the former head prosecutor of the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve.
“I have experience prosecuting prior felons in possession of guns on the federal side. I am acutely aware of the deterrent effect through persistent, vigorous prosecution of these cases and how it correlates to safety in the community,” said Williams. “I will press this fight forward.”
In accordance with the bill, the Attorney General must submit an annual report to the House and Senate with the number of arrests, prosecutions, convictions, sentences and expenditures stemming from the task force’s investigations and prosecutions.
Williams is currently circulating co-sponsorship memos seeking bipartisan support for the legislation to introduce in the coming days.
Williams has also introduced a co-sponsorship memorandum to make criminal sentences presumptive in cases of a violent offender in possession of a gun, a drug trafficker in possession of a gun and unlawful possession by a prior-convicted felon. The court would be required to justify on the record a substantial and compelling reason to render a sentence below the sentencing guidelines.
“Coupling aggressive prosecution with significant prison sentences is our best tool for combating violence. It is well overdue,” said Williams.
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