Cheryl Allison, Main Line Times

In advance of a “day of action” on gun legislation in Harrisburg, former state Rep. Lita Cohen and members of the organization CeaseFirePA met in front of the Lower Merion Township Building Tuesday to launch a new awareness campaign.

They unveiled signs they hope Pennsylvanians will display on lawns and in windows to send a message to lawmakers at state and federal levels.

“We hope this will go viral,” said Cohen, of Merion Station, holding one of the placards that read, “We support common sense gun laws.” She also presented a check for $1,000 to CeaseFirePA Executive Director Shira Goodman as a personal donation from herself and her husband, Stanley.

“Newtown just pushed us over,” she said of the commitment, referring to the shootings at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School.

As a Republican member of Pennsylvania’s legislature from 1993 to 2002, Cohen, who has since switched parties, recalled working with Democrat Ed Rendell, then mayor of Philadelphia, to try to shepherd several gun bills through the state House. “We could not get anything done,” she said.

After Newtown and other tragedies, she thinks the country’s mood has changed. “This is not a political issue between Republicans and Democrats,” she said. “For too long the NRA and the manufacturers and distributers of guns, bullets and what I call weapons of mass destruction [military-type assault weapons] have defined the issue,” she added. “It’s time for all Americans to take back the issue.”

Standing with her, besides Goodman, were Haverford resident David Broida, a founding member of CeaseFirePA; Ardmore United Methodist Church pastor the Rev. Timothy Thomson-Hohl; and a representative of state Sen. Daylin Leach’s office, Hallie Ammons.

Lower Merion Commissioners Cheryl Gelber and George Manos also lent their support, saying they were there as individuals. The township board has not taken a stand on the issue, Gelber said. For her, however, gun violence has been an issue of concern since she began serving on the Lower Merion-Narberth Youth Coalition, formed in the wake of the Columbine High School shootings.

Cohen said the sign campaign is meant to be a grass-roots effort. “I ordered 100 to start, and I’ve already ‘sold’ half of them,” she said, explaining that people are being asked to donate $10 to CeaseFire for each sign.

“We are ordinary, good, regular citizens who respect the Constitution and the Second Amendment. I hate the two words ‘gun control.’ This is not gun control. This is not a slippery slope. We’re not taking anyone’s guns away from them,” Cohen went on to say. “The government requires driver’s licenses and seat belts. The government didn’t take our cars away from us. Our freedoms are defined and sometimes limited. [It’s] the old adage, you can’t holler fire in a crowded theater.”

“We are law-abiding citizens. We want our children to be safe. To paraphrase President Roosevelt, we want freedom from fear. We should not be afraid to send our children to school, to the movies, to the playground,” she said. “So we’re going to Harrisburg tomorrow and eventually we’re going to Washington to ask our legislators, why are you not requiring background checks, why are you not providing better mental health services, why are you not limiting the gun-show loophole, . . . why do we need weapons that fire multiple rounds in seconds? That’s just not truly what all Americans are about.”

Goodman thanked Cohen and her husband for their “ingenuity in coming up with something so grass-roots.” She said hundreds are expected to go to Harrisburg on Wednesday to rally at the state Capitol and speak with their legislators. Several busloads will be coming from the Philadelphia area, including one Broida has organized, departing from the King of Prussia Mall.

“For those who aren’t ready to take that step yet, call your legislator, let them hear you. Put the sign up, but we need people to keep talking about this,” she said. “We need to harness that energy and engagement. . . . That’s what we’ve been doing since Dec. 14, and we’re going to continue to do it, because things will only change if people make their voices heard.”

Asking that 2013 will be a year of action to fight gun violence in Pennsylvania, CeaseFirePA is listing these actions as priorities:

· Require comprehensive background checks on all sales of guns or ammunition.

· Require gun owners to file police reports if their guns are lost or stolen.

· Ensure that Pennsylvania sends all relevant mental health data to the national criminal background check system.

· Close the loophole that makes it possible for a gun owner to use a concealed-carry permit from another state when he might not qualify for one in Pennsylvania.

· Work with reforms at the federal level to ban the distribution, manufacture, sale or ownership of assault weapons.

For information about the organization and Cohen’s sign initiative, visit www.ceasefirepa.org.
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