Before Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett ceremonially signed the Brad Fox bill into law Friday, he first made a stop to understand the full weight of its importance.
The governor entered an industrial section of Plymouth Township, retracing the route of a high-speed pursuit that took place not four months ago, and turned a corner to walk parallel with the county bike trail. A few hundred feet away he came across a collection of hockey sticks and hockey pucks, flowers and flags, memorializing the spot where Plymouth Police Officer Bradley Fox drew his final breath.
The governor then met with law enforcement and with Fox's family, including wife Lynsay, her belly healthy and round with Brad, Jr., less than two months away from his scheduled arrival into the world. The Governor spoke with Plymouth Police Chief Joe Lawrence, who told him about his fallen officer, and how K-9 partner Nick spent his first night back in the Fox household moving from room to room, searching for his missing companion.
Gov. Corbett then entered the Harmonville Fire Company, and spoke about Act 199 of 2012, the "Brad Fox Law."
"No words can erase the loss of Officer Fox, and no law can fully compensate for [his] loss," Corbett said. "But once on the books, this law we believe can deter and clearly punish."
The law, sponsored by State Representative Marcy Toepel (R-147), restores a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in prison for individuals who are convicted a second time of "straw purchasing" guns, or legally buying guns and then illegally selling them to felons. Corbett, along with other law enforcement officers who spoke at the signing, drove home the danger straw purchasing presents.
"[Officer Fox] died at the hands of a felon – somebody who never should have had a firearm. But he also died because somebody bought a gun legally, and sold it to [the killer] illegally," Corbett said.
Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman also spoke at the signing and said that county prosecutors had discovered a loophole in the state's straw purchasing laws while investigating the murder.
"We found that the mandatory sentence that should have applied… had been invalidated several years earlier," Ferman said, adding that a bill to close the loophole had passed the House but stalled in the Senate Judiciary Committee. "So I picked up the phone and called Senator [Stewart] Greenleaf and said 'this bill is in your committee and we're hoping that you can move it.'"
According to Rep. Toepel, who had originally presented and guided the bill through the House of Representatives, that was the push needed to get the bill through the upper chamber and why it was deemed the Brad Fox Law.
"This bill today bares the name of officer Fox because his sacrifice expedited the legislation's approval and brought to light the importance on this law," Toepel said.
Corbett, who said he had officially signed the law the moment it crossed his desk, then sat and ceremonially signed it, surrounded by the Fox family and key legislators.
Although the new mandatory sentence won't apply to Michael Henry, the man accused of straw purchasing several firearms, including the one used in Fox's murder, Ferman said she still hoped for appropriate justice.
"I look forward to the day, hopefully not too far in the future, when we go into court in Montgomery County and ask a judge to impose a sentence on the person who put that gun in a killer's hands," Ferman said. "And I look forward to a judge not imposing a sentence on a legal mandatory, but a moral mandatory."
The bill signed, the crowd began to dissipate. The dozens of police officers who had shown up to lend support began to file out, many of them giving K-9 officer Nick a pat on the head on their way, while a misty-eyed Lynsay Fox bravely faced interviews in front of the bright lights of TV cameras.
It was clear the pain hadn't gone away, as it likely never will. But those in attendance knew that, once again, Brad Fox had made them safer. That they had received another gift from a man who lived and gave his life protecting those he loved, along with those he had never even met.
Perkiomen Valley Patch editor Brittany Tressler contributed to this story.