A new anti-gun violence program in Philadelphia aims to reduce the flood of firearms on city streets by targeting those who play an outsized role in gun trafficking: Women.
The coalition group Operation Ladies Involved in Putting a Stop to Inner-City Killing (LIPSTICK) will meet with and educate women in the coming weeks about the consequences of acting as a straw purchaser, or buying a firearm for someone who is unable to legally own a gun.
“We ensure that women know the truth,” said Tamia Rashima-Jordan, executive director of Operation LIPSTICK. “Buying, hiding or holding a gun for someone who can’t own guns legally is a serious crime that fuels neighborhood gun violence, mass incarceration, trauma, injury and death.”
Operation LIPSTICK comes to Philadelphia for the first time thanks to a $123,000 grant from Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s Office. The coalition will partner with the violence prevention and intervention organization Mothers in Charge to educate women and share data with the attorney general’s office.
Shapiro announced the grant on Thursday alongside Rashima-Jordan; Dorothy Johnson-Speight, founder and executive director of Mothers in Charge; City Council President Darrell Clarke; and others inside his Center City offices.
The grant for Operation LIPSTICK was part of Shapiro’s Track and Trace Initiative, a data-driven approach to reducing gun violence and shutting down pipelines for illegal guns that was unveiled this month.
Operation LIPSTICK bills itself as the only peer-to-peer program of its kind in the nation that aims to prevent women from being recruited, coerced and exploited into making straw purchases. The organization has provided services in Boston and New York City.
In Boston, Rashima-Jordan said, the program led to a 33% reduction in all gun crimes committed by women.
Upwards of 30,000 straw purchases are attempted nationwide annually, Shapiro said, and women make up an estimated 80% of them.
Shapiro said his office opens an average of 25 straw purchasing cases every month. Those convicted of two straw purchases face with a five-year mandatory sentence.
“Even if you are not the one who pulled the trigger, you will still be held criminally liable if you are the one who supplied the gun to someone who is not supposed to have it,” he said.
Gun violence kills approximately 1,500 people across the Commonwealth a year, which Shapiro called a public health epidemic. He added that Philadelphia has averaged a shooting every six hours during the past decade.
Johnson-Speight, whose son was shot and killed in 2001, said the Operation LIPSTICK education campaign will save lives. The groups will visit salons and schools to educate women about what’s at stake when acting as a straw purchaser.
“It’s his crime but it’s their time,” she said. “There are laws that will send them to jail and oftentimes women don’t know that.”
Clarke, who introduced a series of gun regulation legislation in June, said there was no difference between straw purchasing and gun trafficking.
“People need to understand that you will get the same time,” he said, “be it a gun trafficking charge or it’s a straw purchase. It’s the same thing.”