Hundreds Rally at PA Capitol As First Gun Violence Prevention Hearing in a Decade Kickstarts Life-Saving Solutions
Five Years After March for Our Lives, doctors, youth, parents, survivors, veterans and law enforcement spoke out as serious policy discussions began on life-saving bills
Harrisburg, PA – In the largest gun violence prevention rally in Pennsylvania in years, more than 400 Pennsylvanians gathered in Harrisburg at #MarchForOurLivesPA to push for life-saving solutions to a public health crisis that has only worsened in recent years. The rally coincides with two critical moments: the fifth anniversary of the March for Our Lives, and the first Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee Hearing on gun violence prevention in a decade – a clear indication of how the balance of power has shifted in the Capitol.
Since the initial March five years ago, more than 8,000 Pennsylvanians have been killed by firearms. While the news portrays this as an urban issue, gun death rates including suicide were highest not just in Philadelphia county, but also Carbon, Wayne, Bedford and Fayette Counties, revealing a crisis that touches everyone in the Commonwealth.
“For years, Pennsylvanians have trekked to Harrisburg hoping something would change, that the laws which would have saved their loved ones would see movement. The wait is finally over and that process now begins,” said Adam Garber, Executive Director of CeaseFirePA Action. “We will not die waiting for change. We will continue to fight for our lives. And we intend to win. Today was a major step forward in the fight.”
“For far too long, the House Judiciary Committee has ignored the gun violence crisis in Pennsylvania. Today that changes as we hold the first hearing on gun violence prevention where those most impacted by guns and gun violence will help us find proposed solutions and insights into how we can best protect our children, loved ones, and our communities,” said Chairman Tim Briggs (D-Montgomery) before heading into the Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee Hearing on Preventing Gun Violence and Mass Shootings.
“Young people showed up to elect Gov. Josh Shapiro and helped deliver a pro-gun reform majority in the Pennsylvania House for the first time in more than a decade,” said David Hogg, March For Our Lives Co-Founder and Parkland Survivor. “Because of young people, we have a window of opportunity to take real action to save lives and reduce the number of children shot and killed each year in our schools and streets. We’re at a tipping point to bring real change. To those in power, we’re demanding action. Let’s get the work done so that kids no longer need to live in fear.”
“Gun violence is the number one cause of death for children in the United States, and current Pennsylvania State Legislation does not protect its youth from that horrifying reality,” said Madeline Barbezat, an organizer with March for Our Lives who attends West Chester East High School. “After 5 years, March For Our Lives is rallying again so that the youth of this Commonwealth don’t have to live in fear of gun violence in their communities and in their own homes. We have the power to take office from those who are willing to sit by and watch while we live in fear. We have the power to vote out those who refuse to do their jobs and protect the citizens of this Commonwealth.”
Throughout the day, constituents from an estimated 36 counties met with decision-makers, snapped selfies to drop at offices and shared their stories of how gun violence impacted their lives. They pushed for a Common Agenda to End Gun Violence, including reporting of lost or stolen firearms, safe storage, Extreme Risk Protection Orders, and universal background checks.
“We are gathering not just for Philadelphia, but for survivors across the state and country,” said Chantay Love of EMIR Healing, who organized a bus from Philadelphia to Harrisburg filled with parents and siblings who’ve lost someone to the crisis. “Violence is everywhere and is everyone’s problem. We must collectively work to heal, intervene and prevent.”
The rally paused in the middle for attendees to share the names of those lost to this public health crisis. They quickly ran out of time as dozens stepped up to the mic.
“There is no lost or stolen requirement in our state. Responsible gun owners: why wouldn’t you report a missing firearm? It could save a life; it could prevent an act of violence. One life lost is too many,” said Jeani Garcia, the Director of Operations at Promise Neighborhoods of Lehigh Valley, whose son Kareem was murdered in Allentown with an unreported, supposedly stolen firearm.
Chairman Briggs plans to convene the first Pennsylvania House of Representatives hearing on preventing gun violence in a decade in the afternoon. Doctors, public health experts, police, mayors, and survivors are expected to share their perspectives on life-saving solutions. Mothers will share gut-wrenching stories that have been too often shut out of the discussion when looking at legislation.
“As mayor of a major American city, I’m committed to a safe, clean, and healthy environment for all,” said Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk. “We can all agree that limiting access to illegal guns – through legislation – will improve health outcomes for our families and neighbors. I ask people to join me in working to reduce and end gun violence in cities like ours and cities across the country.”
There was a sense of hope among many attendees after years of intractable fights in Harrisburg. In the last session, legislation passed that eliminated concealed carry permit requirements and attacked municipalities trying to ensure safety. All the while, evidence-based solutions were stalled. No votes were planned on Thursday, an indication the majority wants to allow experts, impacted communities, and community leaders to shape the discussion on public safety.
The rally concluded with students from dozens of schools declaring loudly the places they no longer feel safe and defiantly shouting “We March for Our Lives” – forcing adults in the General Assembly to face the need of a whole generation dealing with daily gun violence.
Daryl “Brother D” Craig, the father of a gunshot victim and Co-Founder of the Blue Coats, a nonviolence initiative for youth in Erie, said “children in crisis should be an emergency for adults. We created the children and the crisis.”
ADDITIONAL PERSPECTIVES FROM SPEAKERS AND TESTIFIERS
“My son was silenced by gun violence. I am now his voice,” Meredith Elizade planned to share at the hearing. Nick was murdered at Roxborough Highschool in the fall of 2022. “These deaths are unequivocally the fault of illegal guns and our government’s unwillingness to act, of which I am ashamed. I implore this body to act in the best interest of public safety.”
“In my many years as an Emergency physician, I have personally seen the devastation caused by firearms, both by accident and by intent. My colleagues and I at Reading Hospital have treated thousands of victims of guns. We have treated the physical destruction and disfigurement. And, far too often, we have had to tell family and friends that a bullet has taken the life of their loved one. We never get used to it,” Dr. Barbera, the CEO of Reading Hospital intended to tell the Committee at the hearing. “The impact of gun violence is not a situation unique to Reading Hospital, Tower Health, or the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Almost any emergency physician in any hospital would tell you that gun violence is a national epidemic.”
“Three of my friends and former police colleagues are among the 150 police suicides estimated each year. Approximately 20 veterans, including friends of mine, die by suicide every day. If their families’ had ERPOs, my friends might be here today,” said Lisa Boeving-Learned, a retired police officer, Army veteran, and responsible gun owner in Mercer County.
“In my 21 years as a teacher, principal, and Superintendent in Pennsylvania, I’ve had to live through too many tragedies as a result of gun violence. I’ve had to comfort families, rework response plans, and develop creative ways to keep our schools safe, while meeting the ever-growing emotional needs of our students and staff,” said Dr. Daniel Castagna, Superintendent of the Woodland Hills Area School District. “Today, let’s work to stop weapons from getting into the hands of people that shouldn’t have them before incidents happen.”
“The most basic job of local government is to provide safety. We work hard for that every day. But until Harrisburg enacts statewide gun safety reforms, communities like mine will continue to be flooded with illegal firearms, violence will continue destroying lives, and I’ll continue to attend too many funerals and console too many broken families. The time for action by the General Assembly is now,” said Dwan Walker, Mayor of Aliquippa.
Photo Credit: Michael Mason