For Immediate Release:
October 5, 2023
For More Information:
Josh Fleitman, CeaseFirePA Campaign Director, (412) 426-5148, firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep Kids Safe at School: Growing Statewide Movement Demands Action This Back-to-School Season
Students, Educators, Parents, Doctors & Law Enforcement Across PA Spent Past Month Calling on Harrisburg to Pass Gun Violence Prevention Legislation
Over the past month, 1.7 million Pennsylvanian kids went back to school. Parents, students, and school communities all felt the excitement and apprehension of a new school year – with one unspoken question looming: will it be safe? With a fourfold increase in school shooting incidents nationally from 2017 to 2022, and amid ineffective and even harmful policies like requiring armed guards at schools increasingly offered as a “solution,” CeaseFirePA led a month-long campaign this back-to-school season in partnership with a diverse coalition of advocates to amplify the growing calls for passing evidence-based gun violence prevention legislation in Harrisburg.
“The unthinkable has become all too common – with at least 21 school-related shootings in PA alone since 2015. Parents live in fear of the next shooting as children as young as toddlers are traumatized by active shooter drills, making way for hollow ‘solutions’ like bulletproof backpacks. “This isn’t the way to keep our kids safe,” said Adam Garber, Executive Director of CeaseFirePA Action. “No parent should have to even think about buying a bulletproof backpack for their child and no student should have to worry about getting shot at school. The only way we can make this vision a reality is through life-saving gun safety laws.”
Advocates are specifically demanding that a package of four bills be enacted into law, the first two of which have already passed the PA House of Representatives with bipartisan support:
- Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs) (HB 1018) would create a legal process to temporarily remove firearms from someone who is at-risk of committing a school shooting;
- Universal background checks (HB 714) would close off a gap in our system that allows assault rifles – now the weapon of choice in mass school shootings – to be bought from private sellers without any vetting;
- Safe firearm storage (HB 1629) would require that guns be stored securely in the home, keeping firearms away from kids and cutting off the source of the gun in over 76% of school shootings;
- Lost and stolen gun reporting (SB 461) would address a major driver of illegal guns and help stop firearm trafficking to minors.
“We cannot wait one more day for Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Lisa Baker to hold a hearing on the bipartisan Extreme Risk Protection Order and universal background check legislation that has passed the PA House and awaits action in the PA Senate,” added Garber.
CeaseFirePA organizers and volunteers fanned out across the Commonwealth to gather over 1,200 petition signatures from citizens to their state legislators pleading to pass these bills into law. They pounded the pavement at college campuses, houses of worship, and even retirement communities to mobilize the majority of Pennsylvanians – including most gun owners – who want stronger gun safety laws.
Here’s just two of the regular Pennsylvania parents who shared their stories (their full names have been redacted at their request for privacy and safety reasons):
“I have two children in public school, and I work in a public school. I am scared for my children’s safety every day and I struggle with what I would do if there was an active shooter in my building. It causes me much anxiety and I am so nauseated by the thought of my children being gunned down in school. I’m tired of nothing being done,” said Lauren in Pittsburgh.
“As the parent of a college student, I feel the normal passing worries at times: car accidents, substance overuse, all the inevitable risks of being human and finding one’s way in the world. Having to also wonder whether an enraged person will burst into our children’s schools and start shooting is NOT normal. It’s the result of policy choices,” said S.K. in Bala Cynwyd. “Folks in so many other countries do not have to carry this burden.”
Over a series of five town halls in the Philadelphia and Pittsburgh suburbs, hosted by gun safety champions State Representatives Brian Munroe, Lisa Borowski, Chris Pielli, Arvind Venkat, and Emily Kinkead, panels of experts – including students themselves – engaged with community members on how these pieces of legislation are needed to keep kids safe at school.
Educators and mental health professionals emphasized what is and isn’t effective at preventing school gun violence:
“Arming teachers does not keep our schools safer,” said Bryan Seybert, a chemistry teacher at South Fayette High School. “The best way to maintain a safe environment for our children is to be proactive instead of reactive regarding the issues that cause students to turn to violence.”
“Gun violence remains one of the most significant public health threats confronting young people in the United States. As both a parent and a school psychologist, I know all too well the trauma, heightened anxiety and fear that communities experience related to school violence”, said Dr. Kirby Wycoff, School Psychologist and Associate Professor at Thomas Jefferson University. “Irrespective of personal beliefs systems or political ideology, we all fundamentally believe that kids have the right to feel safe in school. What is increasingly clear, is that common-sense gun safety laws, that keep guns out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, is the answer.”
Students and young people gave hope to town hall audience members and policymakers alike that Gen Z will continue to up the pressure and hold opponents of gun safety laws accountable for their failure to act:
“I grew up hearing about many school shootings in the news, one after the other, which seemed like a never ending cycle. Well, as hopeless as gun violence may seem, sparks of hope have glimmered from the dark cave. State-level policies ranging from safe gun storage to universal background checks have proven to be useful and aid in this matter,” said Martina Becerril, a sophomore at Radnor High School in Wayne, PA. “My generation won’t stop speaking out on this issue until we see a safe Pennsylvania for everyone. I want a safe country. I want a safe school. I want a safe home.”
“As a member of the school shooting generation, the plea to act to prevent senseless gun tragedies is both urgent and deeply personal,” said Jaime Martinez, a recent graduate of North Allegheny High School and former student representative to the North Allegheny School Board. “Action to keep kids safe at school should be thoughtful, strategic, commonsense, and data-driven – our legislators in Harrisburg can demonstrate their commitment to saving lives by supporting universal background checks, Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and safe gun storage legislation.”
“As a young activist at a time when gun violence has become one of the most imminent threats, and as research makes clear that access to firearms is driving gun violence – not mental health or video games – I refuse to stay silent. My generation will not stop calling on legislators to take action to create a world where we can all feel safe from the threat of gun violence,” said Mallorie Marsan, a student activist at Temple University, originally from Bucks County.
And law enforcement panelists at the town halls underscored how systemic policy change would help them to better do their job and prevent violence in our schools:
“Safe storage of firearms can help reduce school violence and is supported by research,” said Officer Aaron Vanatta, Chief of School Police and Safety & Security Coordinator for the Quaker Valley School District, citing the above-referenced recent study by the U.S. Secret Service.
Advocates, experts, and citizens all pledged to continue organizing, educating, and movement building until these and other pieces of legislation are signed into law and all Pennsylvanians can live a life free from gun violence.
As the Commonwealth’s leading gun violence prevention organization, CeaseFirePA Education Fund organizes communities closest to the issue, holds those in power accountable, and maximizes the strengths of every member in its broad coalition.