For Immediate Release: March 23, 2021

For More Information:
Adam Garber, CeaseFire PA Executive Director, (267) 515-1220, adam@ceasefirepa.org
Frances Patano, CeaseFirePA Communications Manager, frances.patano@ceasefirepa.org
Video recording available upon request.

MEDIA RELEASE

Hundreds Virtually Lobby for Common Agenda to End Gun Violence

Faith, community, medical, veteran, and gun safety organizations demand action amid surge in gun violence

HARRISBURG — Firearms take the lives of 1,600 Pennsylvanians every year — but the manner of those deaths varies greatly. A new coalition of nearly 100 organizations launched today to connect communities facing trauma from gun violence with a Common Agenda designed to address the full scope of this devastation. Faith leaders, doctors, nurses, survivors, veterans, and community members met with dozens of decision-makers to advocate for policies that would prevent future gun deaths.

“Another year of loss, another year of waiting for action. Our loss of loved ones, community, and a sense of safety binds us together,” said Adam Garber, CeaseFirePA Executive Director. “We are now bound together by action. We are joined in calling for our elected officials to enact solutions that will help reduce the gun violence that is devastating families and tearing apart our communities.”

The coalition, which spans Pennsylvania’s urban, suburban, and rural communities, came together as gun violence and firearm sales rose to record levels in 2020. 

“Every death to gun violence is a tragedy, all the more because we know exactly how to reduce gun violence,” Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said. “For years, CeaseFirePA has advocated for commonsense solutions that would reduce gun violence, save lives and make our communities safer. Once again, we raise our voices – together – to call for change. I am proud to stand with CeaseFirePA – and I look forward to signing legislation to make Pennsylvania’s communities safer.”

A trio of solutions could begin to address this public health crisis: 

  • Extreme Risk Protection Orders, introduced by Senator Fontana (D-Allegheny) and Rep. Todd Stephens (R-Montgomery), would create a mechanism to temporarily remove firearms from someone who wants to hurt themselves or others. It has reduced suicide by 15%-20% in other states.
  • An investigation in Pittsburgh found one-third of crime guns were supposedly lost or stolen. It has become a key part of illegal firearm trafficking. Proposed legislation from Senator Tartaglione, Rep. Kenyatta and Rep. Sanchez would require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms shortly after realizing they’re missing, helping cut community violence.
  • Closing the gaps in Pennsylvania’s background check system would prevent violent felons and other dangerous individuals from purchasing military-style rifles, the weapon of choice for mass shootings, from private/non-licensed sellers. Senators Hughes and Santarsiero have introduced Senate Bill 88 to address this issue.

“There are solutions to stopping the gun violence that too often tears families apart and makes our communities less safe,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “We are working to stop illegal gun trafficking and we stand with the majority of Pennsylvanians who support background checks and getting crime guns off of our streets. It’s time to stop the thoughts and prayers – take action and save lives.”

“The General Assembly must do more to address the gun violence epidemic and the public health crisis it is causing in communities all across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Senator Hughes said. “My colleagues and I have proposed numerous pieces of legislation to provide comprehensive solutions to the ongoing crisis, and yet we have seen little action in the House and Senate, despite public support for some of the most basic common-sense measures. My colleagues and I will continue to push to reduce gun violence, but we need support from the other side to bring about substantive change.”

“Responsible firearm ownership includes knowing the whereabouts of your guns. Gun traffickers take advantage of the lack of required reporting of ‘lost or stolen firearms,’ which results in a pipeline of illegal guns to the streets,” said Representative Sanchez (Abington), who introduced legislation to require lost or stolen firearm reporting. “That’s why Rep. Kenyatta and I have introduced legislation that would add Pennsylvania to a growing list of states requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms.”

“As legislators, leaders in our community and good neighbors, we have a moral obligation to not just look the other way as innocent people – especially children – are threatened with death and life-changing trauma because of the river of guns flooding our streets,” said Representative Kenyatta (Philadelphia). “We need to stop repeating the tired phrases about ‘thoughts and prayers’ and retire the useless argument about ‘criminals’ versus ‘law-abiding citizens’ and recognize it doesn’t matter whose gun the bullet comes from when it kills a child, ruins a life and devastates a family. We need to work together to identify the steps we can take to address the problem and then take action.”

Gun violence surged across Pennsylvania in 2020. Philadelphia’s gun homicide rate reached a thirty-year high, while shootings in Harrisburg climbed 40 percent. Gun suicide data has yet to be released for the year, but health experts are concerned the social isolation and emotional stress of the pandemic led to an increase in violence. 

“Gun violence is often perpetrated by people who can’t legally possess a firearm. We only want to prevent people who are already deemed ineligible from having easy access to guns,” said George Mosee, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Anti-Drug, Anti-Violence Network.

“My daughter Emily hid her pain and desperation behind a cheerful smile,” said Denise Marks, RN, who lost her daughter Emily to suicide by gun. “If I knew then what I know now, that gun would not have been in my home. We need a legal means to safely remove that firearm. For the safety of the individual as well as the community.”

“Whether it’s a mass shooter or a potential suicide victim, they often express to others their thoughts of harming themselves or other people,” said Senator Fontana (Allegheny) who is the lead sponsor of Extreme Risk Protection Orders in the Pennsylvania Senate. “It is time our state law backs families who are trying to protect their loved ones while they get the help they need.”

“Extreme Risk Protection Orders have saved lives in other states,” said Rep. Todd Stephens (Montgomery) who announced plans on Monday to reintroduce Extreme Risk Protection Orders in the Pennsylvania House. “We must bring this data-driven, evidence-based solution to Pennsylvania so our residents in crisis can get the help they need before safely resuming their lawful firearm activities.”

The event gathered leaders and citizens from the majority of Pennsylvania’s counties to advocate for the Common Agenda policies. As they spread out in virtual meetings, faith leaders discussed a moral obligation to care for neighbors, while doctors advocated for the patients they often had to treat for gunshot wounds. Responsible gun owners connected respect of firearms with commonsense solutions. 

“We cannot be a neighbor to others if we do not heal what causes Nickel Mines and Sandy Hook,” said Pastor Bob Birch of Leacock Presbyterian Church.

“Guns are part of my family, my life, and my history,” said Carol Lastowka, a gun owner, teacher, and survivor of gun violence. “They always will be. But, I wish I never had to experience the tragic destruction firearms have wreaked on my loved ones. And I know as a gun owner, common-sense solutions can save lives and allow me to continue to hunt.”

Advocates vowed the virtual advocacy day was the start of a statewide campaign to push common-sense gun safety solutions. 

“Our legislators cannot allow this violence to continue,” finished Garber.

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