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As more people get guns and carry permits, Philly sees a sharp rise in homicides ruled justified

Mensah M. Dean, The Philadelphia Inquirer on

Published in News & Features

“For these younger brothers running around here catching weak, unarmed people, the message is they aren’t going to be able to run up on everybody and maim and shoot and kill,” he said.

Jamal Johnson, an anti-violence activist who since 2017 has marched to Washington, D.C., to lobby for stronger gun control laws, said flatly he sees little good in the boom. “Whether they have permits or not, everyone is quick with the gun now,” he said, noting that two men with gun permits touched off the June 4 South Street mass shooting that left three dead and 11 injured.

“Guns are becoming too prevalent, whether they’re in the hands of licensed or unlicensed people,” Johnson said. “We’re becoming the Wild, Wild West, and soon everyone is going to have a gun, killing people — justified or not.”

In the chaotic shooting on South Street, Gregory E. Jackson, 34, opened fire on Micah Towns, 23, wounding him. Towns fired back, killing Jackson. While DA Krasner said Towns had fired in self-defense, Mayor Jim Kenney said Towns should have faced criminal charges.

As it happened, both Jackson and Towns had carry permits. However, as The Philadelphia Inquirer has reported, authorities in Delaware County gave Jackson his permit in error, losing track of a previous gun possession arrest that likely should have led to a denial of a permit.

Numerous studies have found that guns legally purchased are used far less for self-defense and are more likely to be used in unintentional and criminal shootings and in suicides. In 2019, there were nearly 2 1/2 times as many suicides (47,511) as there were criminal homicides (19,141), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2015, David Hemenway, director of the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, and Sara Solnick, an economist at the University of Vermont, analyzed national government surveys involving more than 14,000 people and found that people were more likely to be injured after threatening attackers with guns than they were if they had called the police or ran away.

In a landmark study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1993, researchers found that having a gun in the home was linked with nearly three times higher odds that someone would be killed at home by a family member or intimate acquaintance.


Still, Kathy Onn said she was grateful that her 24-year-old son had his gun with him and thwarted an armed robber outside their South Philadelphia home on May 11.

“I heard the gunfire. I was right here,” Onn, 52, said in a recent interview at her home, where she is recovering from a stroke and sleeps in a hospital bed by the front door, near where the shooting occurred.

Her son, who works as her home health care aide, declined to be interviewed. “He’s a good kid,” Onn said of her son. “I’m handicapped and he takes good care of me.”

Onn said she knows well the former stepfather of the man her son killed in self-defense that day. “I feel very, very sad,” she said. “The world is very small.”

That man, Nat Keo, said he was grieving both the 24-year-old who was fatally shot and for Onn’s son. As for her son, Keo said: “I hope he finds peace in himself. I know he’s going through a lot. It’s not easy. I’m sure it’s stressful for him, and I hope he’s OK.”


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