The first time John Solomon picked up a gun, he was 11 years old.

Pennsylvania's soon-to-be state Attorney General Josh Shapiro asked him if he felt it might be the wrong thing to do.

He didn't.

"It was common," Solomon said. "I grew up watching people exposing me to guns."

Today, Solomon is 24 and on probation after serving nearly five years in prison for assault with a firearm.

"My family members suffered because of the actions I committed, but I didn't know that at the time when I was in the streets," he said. "I was young and I was misguided. I didn't have any empathy."

Now, Solomon works with his uncle Darryl Shuler as a volunteer hoping to quell violence in North Philadelphia, trying to convince young people not to shoot each other.

Solomon and Shuler were among the more than 20 people who spoke at a community forum hosted by Shapiro Tuesday morning. As he prepares to be sworn in as Pennsylvania's highest law enforcement officer next month, Shapiro, a Democrat, is touring cities from Allentown to Pittsburgh to collect feedback on major issues, such as the opioid epidemic.

In Philadelphia, the conversation centered on gun violence. It's a city where 1,206 people have been shot — but survived — and 258 have been killed so far this year.

Shapiro presided over a conference table at a health clinic in North Philadelphia. Seated closest to him were some of the city's bold-faced names, including Police Commissioner Richard Ross, District Attorney Seth Williams and Council President Darrell Clarke. Elsewhere around the table were leaders of various organizations, such as Mothers In Charge, CeaseFirePA, and Father's Day Rally Committee, who have been working on this issue for years.

A common theme was a lack of funding for the patchwork of small groups such as Shuler's that work on the ground in violent neighborhoods and know the victims and the criminals personally.

"It's kids that don't have clothes," he said after the forum ended. "They don't have places to live. I'm telling you — they taking boarded houses up, un-boarding them up and living in them."

Many of these kids, Shuler said, turn to drug dealing to make money.

"A gun is the tool of the drug trade," said Malik Aziz, a longtime activist and former gang leader and drug dealer who served time in prison. "You got to have a gun to be in the drug trade because you don't want people to rob you ... so you can protect yourself.

"And the guns is easy to get. I can go right now — me — right down the street and get a gun if I want one," he said.

Several participants in the forum made the case that the state attorney general's office and local law enforcement need to partner with activists Shuler, Aziz and others who understand these issues — and the people affected by them — on a grass-roots level and often do their work on a shoestring.

An infestation of guns

Shira Goodman, executive director of CeaseFirePA, said many times, these organizations do not effectively partner with each other. And there is another issue:

"Where are these guns coming from? We need to know," Goodman said. "That data exists. It is hidden behind some walls. We have the power to work with police jurisdictions across the state to get it."

Shapiro could not guarantee more funding for these groups, but he said he would like the state attorney general's office to work more closely with them and "get them rowing in the same direction." He also wants to collect the missing data on how illegal guns used in crimes are trafficked in the state.

Shapiro said he recently met with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman whose office recently released an online tool to monitor gun-trafficking data.

"I was stunned at the number of guns that are coming from Pennsylvania that were on that chart," Shapiro said. "I think it's important that we gather that data in Pennsylvania as well."

Shapiro also said he wants to expand the Philadelphia gun violence task force and push for a statewide requirement to report lost and stolen guns.

Written by Katie Colaneri for NewsWorks.

Sheriff Jewell Williams and Philadelphia City Council President Darell L. Clarke have been promoting the use of gun locks over the past several weeks as part of their joint gun lock safety initiative, #GotAGunGetALock, to help avoid tragedies like this:


Two-year-old Benjamin Smith told his father he was going to watch Winnie the Pooh. He went into a bedroom to turn on the TV. A few minutes passed.

Then, a bang.

The boy, police said, picked up a .45 caliber handgun that his father kept loaded on a nightstand and accidentally shot himself. He died just before midnight Sept. 12.

On Wednesday, the father, Nicholas Wyllie, 26, of Quakertown, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child, and recklessly endangering another person. He was arraigned at District Court in Perkasie.

"This is a terribly tragic death, and the worst part about it is it was 100 percent avoidable," Bucks County District Attorney Matthew D. Weintraub said outside the courtroom.

Click here to learn more about Sheriff Jewell Williams's gun lock program.

Philadelphia City Council President Darrell L. Clarke and Sheriff Jewell Williams will appear together Sunday morning, September 25th at 11:30 a.m. on NBC 10 @ issue, a weekly news show that immediately follows "Meet The Press".  The two will discuss their joint "Got a Gun.  Get a Lock!" campaign that seeks to reduce incidents of accidental shootings, especially among children, by securing guns with gun locks given away free of charge, no questions asked.

Sheriff Jewell Williams recently named Deputy Sheriff Officer Robert Hunisch the Military Affairs Liaison for the sheriff’s office as part of its ongoing efforts of community outreach and education.

“Many veterans are returning from long campaigns overseas,” said Sheriff Williams, “and may have issues involving deeds, keeping up with mortgage payments, or looking to buy a property through a sheriff’s sale. We want to make sure they receive all the information necessary to aid in their readjustment”.

DSO Hunisch, who currently lives in South Philadelphia, served in Guantanamo Bay guarding some of the most dangerous terrorists in the world, and is an 8-year Army veteran who currently serves in the reserves.

“There are so many veterans out there who can use the help we are trying to provide,” he said, “and I can’t stress enough how important these outreach efforts are to helping soldiers get back to a normal life”.

According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, there are approximately 50,000 veterans nationwide who are homeless, and those veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are among the highest number of individuals who are losing their homes to foreclosure and/or taxes.

“We already sponsor numerous workshops and seminars to educate people on how to keep your home as well as how to purchase a home and it’s our goal to get as much of this information out as possible”, said Sheriff Williams, “and dedicated deputies like Hunisch are helping us do just that”.

For more information contact Joseph Blake at 215-495-4174.

Published by The Philadelphia Sun.

Angel Lee was pregnant when she moved to the LGBTQ Home for Hope in North Philadelphia nearly six months ago. A man who refused to believe her sexual orientation had raped her.

She decided to keep the baby, whom she delivered this past Tuesday, naming her Sky Sakina Barnes Lee.

Before giving birth, Lee shared her story Sept. 1 with eight representatives from the Philadelphia Sheriff’s Office. They had come to the shelter on North Hutchinson Street to celebrate its one-year anniversary.

In that time, the home has hosted city, state and federal officials. It’s the first shelter for LGBT homeless people in Philadelphia.

Deputy Sheriff Dante Austin, one of two LGBT liaisons in the sheriff’s office, organized the anniversary visit. John Hodges, a civilian employee and the other LGBT liaison, also attended.

“I really want these officers to get to know the community,” Austin, an openly gay deputy, told the residents, “not in a cell and not in a courtroom. These statistics and these definitions are nice, but if they don’t know you, they won’t care.”

After Lee shared her story, the officers brought in bundles of baby supplies. Lee held back tears0 and, while posing for photos later, she joked, “I’m actually touching a cop without getting in trouble.”

Lee will have to leave the Home for Hope now that she has given birth. The shelter is not equipped to house an infant, officials said. She’s not sure yet where she will move. But she said she would still visit the residents.

“We’re a family here,” said Anya Martin, who has lived at the home for a year.

At the hour-long celebration, several residents shared their coming-out stories and experiences with law enforcement. Austin also talked about how the sheriff’s deputies had supported the LGBT community in the field.

For each person living in the Home for Hope, 38 officers sponsored 38 bags of donations. They included sheets, pillows and blankets, along with an array of toiletries. Austin also asked each officer to write a personalized note to the resident who would receive each bag. He included a statement from Sheriff Jewell Williams and a description of the work he’s doing as LGBT liaison.

Chief Sheriff Deputy Kevin Lamb said the office is so much more educated about the LGBT community because of Austin.

Deja Lynn Alvarez, director of the Home for Hope, said she was happy to have the sheriff’s office representatives spend time at the shelter and get to know the residents.

“It’s kind of hard to believe that it’s been a year,” she said, “with no real financial backing.”

Donations cover the expenses, which Alvarez said in July can run $8,000-$9,000 a month.

“It really sets in like, we’re still here, we’re still full,” Alvarez continued. “Our first year has been difficult. I feel like our second year will be better.”

Sakina Dean, the owner of the Home for Hope, said she’d like to purchase the 15-bedroom, nine-bathroom former convent. Its current owner, Northstar Manor Inc., has agreed to a price of $250,000, which is half of the place’s market value, according to Philadelphia property records.

Standing out front, facing the large side yard, Dean pointed out where she would eventually like to see a youth shelter and affordable housing. Alvarez would like to get experts to offer workshops on life coaching and personal finances.

“It has been a journey,” Dean said of the Home for Hope’s first year. “Through faith and through our mission, I believe it’s going to continue to be a success.”

For more information or to support the home, visit

Written by Paige Cooperstein for the Philadelphia Gay News.

The Sheriff's Office, in partnership with the City Council President Darrell Clarke, are committed to distributing gun locks to gun owners in Philadelphia to promote safe firearm containment practices and prevent gun accidents, theft and misuse.

Using a gun lock is easy. Simply remove the loose end of the cable from the padlock and thread it through your unloaded firearm as shown on the included instruction sheet. With the key turned to the farthest clockwise position, insert the loose end of the cable into the padlock. Then turn the key counterclockwise and remove the key. Check that the cable is secure. Your gun is now locked and safe. Make sure you store your key and ammunition someplace away from the gun.

To receive a gun lock, you can either pick one up at the front desk of the Sheriff’s Office on the 5th Floor of 100 S. Broad Street between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or call our hotline number at 215-686-3572. Leave your name, number and address and someone from the Sheriff’s Office will quickly be in touch with you.


The compelling theme of “Got a gun? Get a lock” is resonating with many people who are requesting gun locks—no questions asked—from the Office of the Sheriff of Philadelphia City & County.

“It’s great that we are getting this kind of response,” said Sheriff Jewell Williams. “The number one reason we have joined with City Council President Darrell Clarke and the District Attorney’s office is to get ANY gun in a household securely locked for safety reasons”.

Since the gun lock campaign kicked off at Temple University earlier this month, there have been several events, including a peace march in conjunction with Deliverance Evangelistic Church at 23rd & Lehigh Avenue, in which the sheriff and other elected officials literally handed out gun locks themselves.”

“It’s important that the people see leadership in a leadership role,” said Councilman Clarke recently on the “The Roundup,” the monthly radio show hosted by Sheriff Williams on WURD.

To receive a gun lock, you can either pick one up at the front desk of the sheriff’s office on the 5th Floor of 100 S. Broad street between 8:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., or call our hotline number at 215-686-3572. Leave your name, number and address and someone from the sheriff’s office will quickly be in touch with you.

“We transport more than 500 people per day back and forth between the courts and the prisons,” said Sheriff Williams, “and many are charged with crimes involving guns. Before anger gets to a point of reaching for a gun, if that gun is in a lock, it provides at least a few seconds for an individual to change their mind about firing that weapon, and makes it almost impossible to fire if found, and handled by a child. Got a gun—get a lock”.

A bill was recently enacted by City Council entitled the “Responsibility to Avoid Possession and Discharge of Firearms by Children” act (introduced by Council President Clarke) that requires all firearms in homes with children under the age of 18 to be kept unloaded and stored in a locked container, with the ammunition in a separate locked container. The exception would be when the firearm or ammunition is in the "immediate control" of a person with a license to carry a gun.