FUMO, KITCHEN TO INTRODUCE GUN-FREE SCHOOL ZONE LEGISLATION
PHILADELPHIA, February 26, 2004 –In an effort to shield school children from gun violence, state Senators Vince Fumo and Shirley M. Kitchen (both D-Philadelphia) announced today that they are preparing legislation to create firearm-free zones around all Pennsylvania schools. They plan to introduce a bill in Harrisburg shortly after the Senate returns to session on March 8.
The action comes in the wake of the shooting death of a 10-year-old boy outside a North Philadelphia elementary school several weeks ago. He was struck in the head by a bullet during a gun battle among what law enforcement authorities believe were drug dealers.
"This is an important piece of legislation to protect children all over Pennsylvania, and we expect widespread support in the legislature," said Kitchen. "Senator Fumo and I plan to work hard to get this bill passed into law as soon as possible, to help prevent more tragedies such as the one here in our city last week."
"As the author of the state’s comprehensive gun control law of 1995, which had the support of Sarah Brady and the NRA, I believe this is an essential addition to the tools of law enforcement," said Fumo. "We can create a safety zone around schools and enact tough penalties to keep guns away from school areas, without violating the rights of any law-abiding citizens."
Fumo has already discussed the proposal with the National Rifle Association and expects to cooperate with the organization to craft an acceptable bill that can pass the Republican-controlled legislature.
Paul Vallas, CEO of the School District of Philadelphia, and District Attorney Lynn Abraham, who helped develop the legislation, appeared with Fumo and Kitchen at a press conference and pledged to work for passage of the bill in the state legislature. State Rep. Jewell Williams of Philadelphia, who is working on similar legislation in the state House, also attended.
"This will be a key piece of legislation that will bring one more layer of safety to our schools and the communities surrounding them," said Vallas. "This is one of the many steps that we are taking to develop a powerful and long-lasting approach to stopping the violence around our schools."
The legislation, which is in the final phases of being drafted, will prohibit the possession, use or control of a firearm within 1,000 feet of any property on which a school is located. It would apply to all public, private and parochial schools, as well as colleges and universities in the state. The bill would establish the same restrictions within 500 feet of any recreation center, playground or school transportation vehicle.
A key part of the legislation will be mandatory prison time for possession or discharge of a firearm within the defined school zones, as well as harsher sentences for anyone using a firearm during the commission of another crime within the zones. The exact length of those prison terms is still under review but will be included in the final draft of the bill.
The law would not apply to any person who is duly licensed to carry a firearm, nor to anyone who otherwise possesses or uses a firearm in conjunction with a supervised school activity or course, or other lawful purpose.
At least 14 other states and the District of Columbia have similar laws already on the books. In addition, Congress several years ago enacted a school safety zone law that precludes possession of a firearm within a safety zone, but the federal law is less encompassing than the one envisioned by Fumo and Kitchen.
The state Department of Education would be required to develop a method by which the gun-free school zones are defined and marked with signs.
Current state law makes it a first-degree misdemeanor to possess a firearm within a school building or on school grounds, but does not address the surrounding areas.
Attention has focused on the problem in guns in the vicinity of schools since the fatal shooting on February 11 of Faheem Thomas-Childs, a third-grader at T.M. Piece Elementary School in Philadelphia.
Fumo said he would propose calling the measure "Faheem's Law."