Loaded Questions: A man’s quest before the courts to get his AK-47 back.


The scene: Courtroom 504 in the Philadelphia Criminal Justice Center, Common Pleas Court Judge Frank Palumbo presiding. The matter at hand: one AK-47 rifle, seized by Philly Police from one William Alexander of the Point Breeze neighborhood. The question: whether Alexander would be given back his weapon.

As far as Alexander was concerned, he was entitled to it: He was the undisputed legal owner, had been charged with no crime, and lost the rifle to police custody only when he reported he had recovered it, after first reporting — in accordance with a city ordinance mandating such reports within 24 hours of incident — that it was stolen from his car. (Alexander got the weapon back himself by putting word on the street that if he didn’t get it back “there’s going to be a problem.)

The Philadelphia District Attorney, representing the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, had a different opinion: Alexander, an assistant DA argued, had called police to report that his car had been broken into, but failed to include the AK-47 in his initial report, calling police about it 12 hours later. On another day, what’s more, police found a loaded Glock in his unlocked car (as well as a different AK-47 in his house). ?Although all Alexander’s guns were registered, his vehicular gun storage practices, the DA argued, amounted to “reckless endangerment.”

Judge Palumbo disagreed, pointing out that such a standard for that charge would make criminals out of many people. The DA tried again, arguing that Alexander’s behavior demonstrated the “possibility” of being involved in straw-purchasing — buying a gun legally for someone else’s (illegal) use, a major way that weapons get into the hands of criminals in Philadelphia, and an activity that’s led the city to consistently lobby Harrisburg for stricter gun-control measures. But those measures have been consistently defeated. And the law, as Palumbo pointed out in granting the return of Alexander’s AK-47, is the law.

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