CeaseFirePA, supporters ask lawmakers to take steps to reduce gun violence: ‘Enough is enough’

A rally calling for an end to gun violence brings together Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers, joining students, family members of victims of gun violence, and advocates at the steps of the state Capitol. April 26, 2022. (Dan Gleiter / PennLive)

A rally calling for an end to gun violence brings together Gov. Tom Wolf and lawmakers, joining students, family members of victims of gun violence, and advocates at the steps of the state Capitol. April 26, 2022. (Dan Gleiter / PennLive)

This story originally appeared on WITF.

A crowd of advocates for firearm regulation gathered on the steps at the Pennsylvania State Capitol Complex at noon Tuesday to urge lawmakers to up the fight against gun violence with legislation.

CeaseFirePA, led by executive director Adam Garber, weathered the midday showers to speak on gun violence, how it impacts families around the state, and about legislation that could help solve the problem.

A single heckler stood lower on the steps, blowing a whistle and saying, “If you can have them, we can have them too.”

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It has been 12,092 days since Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law that took guns from the hands of domestic abusers. Since then, however, 5,840 lives have been lost to gun violence, Garber said.

“The legislative majority is not just failing their duty, they are refusing to discuss it,” Garber said. “We have the solutions and now we want action.”

“Each number has a name, has a story, has a family, has someone and a story they won’t get to continue,” Garber said.

The group sought support for Senate Bill 217 and House Bill 980, which would require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms. Garber said this would not only prevent gun violence but also would benefit gun owners.

Reports of stolen weapons being used in violent crimes have risen by 38 percent in the past two years, according to Garber.

However, that law would victimize gun owners twice, according to Val Finnell, the director of Gun Owners of America, which he called a non-partisan organization — once, when the gun is stolen, and a second time by the state if they do not report it.

“It is really not effective,” Finnell said. “The issue is not in the reporting of the lost or stolen firearm. It is in the recovery. [Police] wait for them to turn up later in the crime. It is really not effective,” Finnell said.

“Enough is enough,” said Harrisburg Mayor Wanda Williams, who lost her granddaughter, Tiana, eight years ago to gun violence. “She will not be a woman. Not be a mother. Not be a wife. She was taken from us.”

Williams said 54 people have been taken from Harrisburg by gun violence since October of 2018.

“When a lawful gun is taken from the hands of a lawful gun owner, there is no telling where it will end up,” Williams said. “This is common sense legislation that every gun owner can agree with.”

Added Rep. Joanna McClinton, a Democrat from Delaware County: “We are not doing enough to keep the guns out of the wrong hands. Action has to happen. We cannot just say ‘thoughts and prayers’.”

Reporting stolen firearms puts the onus on the victim of the theft, according to Kim Stofler, the president of the state chapter of Firearms Owners Against Crimes.

“It’s not going to solve anything It encourages crime, because people will unfortunately steal firearms to impugn the integrity of gun owners,” Stofler said.

Another more remote concern is that requiring lost or stolen firearms to be reported would create a backdoor gun registry through the Pennsylvania State Police, Finnell said, which Gun Owners of America opposes.

“Who doesn’t report lost or stolen firearms? It’s criminals. A law will not solve that,” Finnell said.

Additionally, the group preached support for Senate Bill 134 and House Bill 1903, which would allow family members and law enforcement to temporarily remove access to firearms from a family member in crisis until they can get the help they need.

When Connecticut enacted a similar law, it saw a 13.7 percent reduction in suicides, according to Garber.

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However, Finnell expressed concern for ‘ex-parte hearings’ that would come of this, where the accuser stands before the judge but the accused does not. Finnell said this violates the second, fourth, fifth, and fourteenth amendments.

“It turns due process on its head,” Finnell said.

The efficiency of such a law would only result in guns being taken away from people who are in crisis, but would not address the people in crisis themselves.

“We have a Section 302 involuntary commitment process, and laws against terroristic threats and stalking. If someone makes a terroristic threat, you don’t make a red flag report. You need to arrest them,” Finnell said. “If someone is truly suicidal or homicidal, or mentally unstable, they should be committed because they are a danger to themselves or others regardless of if their firearms are seized or not. That’s the issue.”

Dr. Raquel Forsythe, a 24-year trauma surgeon with UPMC, said she knows the fear in the eyes of gunshot victims she has treated.

“By the time they reach the door of the emergency department, so much damage has already been done. Sometimes, the wounds are too severe and we cannot save their lives,” Forsythe said. “Where we have not made progress is in preventing these injuries.”

Cierra Guest lost her younger sister in a shooting in Pittsburgh. She said 110 is the average size of a graduating class for the Woodland Hills School District.

“Yet, we have 110 tombstones scattered throughout cemeteries in Pittsburgh, rather than diplomas displayed on walls,” Guest said.

The failures of the system should be considered instead of new legislation, Stofler added. He said officers routinely do not charge criminals with possession of a firearm, and when they do, the charges are often dropped in plea deals.

Tina Ford, who founded a local chapter of Mothers of Murdered Sons, said therapy has proved insufficient compared to the unity of her advocacy group in dealing with the loss of her 23-year-old son.

“We need everyone to stop being un-busy. We need integrity. We need people who can get it. We have tools to keep other mothers out of this club,” Ford said.

Finally, Garber asked the General Assembly to set aside $80 million to the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency’s Violence Prevention Program to prevent violence before it happens.

That could help reduce gun homicides by 30 percent, according to a study by CeaseFirePA — which Stofler called suspect in of itself.

Stofler said that money should instead go into law enforcement, prosecuting criminals and incarcerating criminals.

“If $80 million was put into the jail system, it would vastly expand the ability to be kept in jail and citizens’ lives would not be at risk,” he said.

Tahira Fortune, who leads Voices for Choices, lost her 18-year-old son, Samir, in February of 2017.

“Please, help us. I’ve brought a full busload of mothers. I’m not getting funded. Please help me, help the mothers,” Fortune said.

Denene Sorace said that as Lancaster’s mayor she is not able to deliver gun reform, and that reform needs to come from the state legislature.

“My daughter goes to school with some of the kids who are affected by this,” Sorace said. “Mom, he’s really struggling. His uncle just got shot He’s not coming to school. How can we help him?

“Indeed, how can we help them? But this is not a question my 15-year-old daughter should be asking,” Sorace said. “It’s a question these guys should be asking.”

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