Amid homicide surge, there’s been a dramatic rise in Philadelphians legally carrying guns

In 2021, 52,000 applications to legally carry guns in the city were granted
From left to right: Tiffany Washington, Michael Hall, Byron Franklin, Danielle Dupree.
From left to right: Tiffany Washington, Michael Hall, Byron Franklin, Danielle Dupree. Photo credit Tiffany Washington, Michael Hall, Byron Franklin, Danielle Dupree.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — After Danielle Dupree's home in Frankford was broken into a few times, she decided to buy a gun.

Now, she carries it wherever she goes.

“At the time I was a single mother, so being able to protect myself and my kids was everything to me,” Dupree said.

As a young boy growing up in Detroit, Michael Hall grew up with firearms in the house, and his father trained him to shoot when he was seven years old. Now living in West Philadelphia, he has a license to carry and others in his family have weapons as well.

“When you have a lot of crime people have to protect themselves, and I think that’s what you’re seeing, people just have to protect themselves,” Hall said.

Tiffany Washington, a social worker raised in North Philly, legally bought a gun because her neighborhood was “really rough.” She has since moved to Montgomery County, but still carries her weapon to work in the city.

Amid the city’s dramatic surge in gun violence – with this year’s homicide total on pace with last year’s record high – many more city residents have been making similar decisions.

In response to incidents like last weekend’s mass shooting on South Street, city officials have been calling for stricter gun laws from Harrisburg and Washington, D.C.

Meanwhile, many city residents are taking matters of protection into their own hands.

Police statistics show the number of legally purchased guns in the city has skyrocketed.  In the years leading up to 2021, the number of people applying for licenses to carry averaged about 11,000 per year.

In 2021, it jumped to over 70,789. Nearly 53,000, including re-issues, were granted.

According to Michael Hall, it’s not just about a reaction to local crime. It’s fear overall, especially in communities of color.

“Think about the white nationalists who were coming out and just being brazen, think about a lot of racial stuff, not even talking about just criminals and crime,”  he said.  He also said he could not help but notice the growing number of Asian Americans buying guns, which he said happened around the time some politicians, including former President Donald Trump, were derogatorily linking the COVID-19 pandemic to Asian countries.

Byron Franklin, CEO of Train 2 Fight in Philadelphia, says he noticed it too. They weren’t just buying handguns; they were buying semi-automatic weapons.

“A lot of them in line [at the gun shop] said they had been attacked. That's why they wanted firearms,” he said.

Franklin’s been a firearm instructor for civilians and law enforcement for over ten years. He’s a strong advocate for responsible gun ownership, but says that as much as he supports police, he sees a need to be self-sufficient.

“At the end of the day when the threat is right there a phone call takes too long. I want to be able to protect myself and not leave it in someone else’s hands, so that’s what made me want to buy a firearm,” Franklin said.

‘What now?’

In Philadelphia, no permits or licenses are needed to purchase a firearm, only to conceal and carry.  By contrast, the process to legally purchase guns in nearby New Jersey is far more complicated, and concealed carry there is not an option.

When asked this week about the rise in gun violence in the city, Mayor Jim Kenney blamed a number of factors, including what he sees as the need for more laws akin to New Jersey’s to reduce Philadelphia’s number of illegal guns.

“We’ve taken 6,000 guns off the street last year and we’ll probably take close to that many off the street again, but I think far and away, the vast majority of people are law-abiding and peaceful people. It’s just this anomaly of having a gun state and a gun city like this that has put us in this position,” said Kenney at the city’s weekly gun violence press conference.

In the mass shooting over the weekend, there was a mix of both legal and illegal weapons.

Police say one of the assailants, Quran Garner, used an illegally purchased ghost gun to fire into the crowd, while two of the other shooters had a license to carry. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported Wednesday that one of the men who died in the gunfire, Gregory Jackson, shouldn’t have been given that permit based on a prior gun-related arrest. Micah Towns, who fatally shot Jackson, had clearance to carry and is not being charged by the District Attorney’s office because it says he acted in self-defense.

The sense of lawlessness in the city that was highlighted by the South Street shooting – a situation where dozens of police officers were actively nearby – underscores the driving motivation for those who have legally purchased firearms in recent years.

For legal owners, Franklin stresses the need for safe and proper handling.

“Because if somebody breaks in and you’re not home but your gun is and your wife doesn’t know how to use it, now what?  We need to definitely promote education and training in the house,”  Franklin said.  He suggests that before anyone makes a gun purchase, research various firearms and know exactly how it will be used.

He also feels that everyone in the home should get educated, including children.

“They’re going to be curious, but now we can control the narrative on their curiosity and explain and articulate what it’s for and talk about how dangerous it is or can be if not respected,” he said.

Meanwhile, Dupree now specializes in training women in proper firearm use, via her training group, Defensive Unicorns. She’s a domestic abuse survivor and says since women are looked at as weaker targets than men, they should feel empowered with knowledge of how to protect themselves.

She feels more women should carry, saying the street code of women and children being off-limits is long gone.

“Back in the day, whatever the streets were going through or men were going through, it was a man’s problem,” Dupree said.

“Now they’ll take a woman or they’ll take a child, and use them to get back at the man.”

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