For Immediate Release:
April 26, 2022
For More Information:
Adam Garber, CeaseFirePA Executive Director, (267) 515-1220, firstname.lastname@example.org
Josh Fleitman, CeaseFirePA Western PA Manager, (412) 426-5148, email@example.com
Pennsylvanians Descend on Harrisburg to Demand General Assembly “Do Something” to End Gun Violence
HARRISBURG— It has been 1,292 days since the last piece of legislation to address gun violence – Act 79 to disarm domestic abusers – was signed into state law. Since then, record gun sales and the pandemic stress have led to an unprecedented surge in homicides without any further hearings or action by the General Assembly.
“Government’s first responsibility is guaranteeing the safety of the people. The legislative majority isn’t just failing at that – they are refusing to even discuss how to save lives. This cannot be the new normal,” said Adam Garber, CeaseFirePA’s Executive Director, at their Taking a Stand Against Gun Violence Advocacy day with over 200 Pennsylvanians from more than half the counties in our Commonwealth.
A coalition of faith, public health, education, veteran, and community organizations coordinated the event where attendees met with lawmakers to push for increased funding for community-based violence prevention programs and a Common Agenda to End Gun Violence. The coalition demanded policy action to address the epidemic of gun violence that claimed the lives of 1,752 Pennsylvanians in 2020.
“Gun violence is a scourge that takes and takes from our communities. It sows fear, pain, and anger in its wake,” said Governor Tom Wolf. “I’ve done everything in my power through executive action to reduce gun violence, but we need more. Today, I demand that our Republican-led General Assembly step up now to protect lives in Pennsylvania with commonsense gun laws.”
“Gun violence is extinguishing the lives of people across Pennsylvania and leaves fear, sadness, and trauma in its wake,” said Rep. Joanna McClinton, D-Phila/Delaware. “This doesn’t have to be a partisan issue – it is a commonsense issue, and we need Republican leaders to show the courage to act on the numerous bills that we have introduced that would save lives. House Democrats don’t need credit, but our communities need action.”
The coalition is calling for a host of solutions, including:
- Allocating $80 million to the PA Commission on Crime & Delinquency’s Violence Prevention Program to interrupt and prevent violence before it happens. A multi year investment could help reduce gun homicides 30 percent according to an analysis by CeaseFirePA Education Fund;
- Stopping illegal firearm trafficking by requiring reporting of lost or stolen firearms (Senate Bill 217/House Bill 980). An analysis by the Philadelphia Inquirer found stolen weapons were fueling rising violence, with reports rising 38% in the last two years;
- Creating Extreme Risk Protection Orders (Senate Bill 134/House Bill 1903) to give family members and law enforcement a mechanism to temporarily remove access to firearms until an individual in crisis gets the help they need. Nineteen states have such a law, including Connecticut, which saw a 13.7% reduction in suicides from this policy.
The intense frustration over the failure to adopt these and other solutions was palpable as dozens of grieving parents who trekked to Harrisburg held up pictures of their murdered children during the midday rally.
“Our children had voices. They now have no choices,” said Tahira Fortune who brought dozens of parents from her organization Voices for Choices to Harrisburg. Her 18-year-old son Samir was murdered in February 2017. “The mothers, fathers and siblings who’ve lost loved ones to this crisis want you to see our faces today and tell us: why will you not act to save the next child? You are robbing a generation of their chance to live a violence-free life.”
“In 2019, my 23-year-old son, Armani, was senselessly murdered with a gun in our hometown of Clairton,” said Tina Ford, who founded a local chapter of Mothers of Murdered Sons (MOMs) after Armani’s death to provide support to other grieving mothers and help them turn their tragedy into triumph, and their loss into a legacy. “We need action in Harrisburg now so that more mothers are not forced to join our club and feel our heartache.”
“110. The average size of a graduating class. Yet, for the Woodland Hills School District, we have 110 tombstones scattered throughout cemeteries in Pittsburgh, rather than diplomas displayed on walls,” said Cierra Guest, whose sister Jasmine was killed in a shooting. “I want our elected officials to picture each of those tombstones next time they debate or vote to end this cycle. Only then do we have a chance to turn tassels instead of carving letters into more marble.”
They were joined by local officials who often try to console community members in the wake of shootings, while having limited authority to act. Those problems would have worsened this year if Governor Wolf hadn’t vetoed legislation to put more concealed firearms into communities and financially punish municipalities for exploring solutions to the crisis.
“My granddaughter was shot and killed almost 10 years ago now. The issue of gun violence is deeply personal and will live with me and my family forever,” said Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams. “It’s why I support the initiatives by CeaseFirePA and ask Governor Wolf to do everything he can do to get the legislature to move forward on making the City of Harrisburg, and Pennsylvania as a whole, a safer place to live.”
“Public safety is my number one concern as Mayor. Cities like Lancaster need more tools to keep our neighbors and children safe. Let’s invest in our youth, get illegal guns off the street, and pass common-sense legislation — inaction on this issue is not an option as too many young lives continue to be lost to gun violence. I urge Harrisburg to act,” says Mayor Danene Sorace, City of Lancaster.
In recent days, the level of violence has taken on horrific new dimensions as a mass shooting in Pittsburgh and a shooting at Erie High School reminded communities that nowhere seems safe.
“Our schools cannot keep up with the physical and emotional wounds caused by gun violence and legislative inaction,” said Jay Breneman, a Director of the Erie School District which recently was locked down due to a shooting at Erie High School. “We need our children to see that the adults we send to Harrisburg care enough to act, and they can start by passing legislation that reduces the flow of illegal weapons, and fund proven violence-prevention efforts.”
“By the time I see a person who is injured by a firearm, the damage has been done. Physical wounds may be easier to mend than the impact on mental health and the toll on the community,” said Trauma Surgeon, Dr. Raquel Forsythe. “We must do more to prevent firearm injuries before people end up in our Emergency Departments and Trauma Centers. We need common sense legislation to bring resources to our highest risk communities, to keep illegal firearms off the street, and keep people safe when having a mental health crisis.”
Advocates vowed this was the start of a statewide effort to hold elected officials accountable for their failure to act–or to even discuss legislative action at committee hearings.
“We have a moral responsibility to care for our whole community – our families, friends and those whom we do not know. Passing legislation to keep our communities safe is one faithful way that we ‘love our neighbors as ourselves,’” said Rt. Rev. Dr. Audrey Scanlan, Bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Central Pennsylvania.
“Refusing to guarantee the safety of Pennsylvanians isn’t an acceptable decision for legislators. It’s time to stop catering to an extremist gun lobby, and start getting to work to save lives” finished Garber.
As the Commonwealth’s leading gun violence prevention organization, CeaseFirePA Action organizes communities closest to the issue, holds those in power accountable, and maximizes the strengths of every member in its broad coalition.