‘This is madness’: Philadelphians search for answers at vigil for Las Vegas victims

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In front of a statue made of clasped hands and embracing arms, they prayed together and called for political change.

Speaker after speaker at Tuesday night’s “Standing with Las Vegas” vigil in Philadelphia — including Mayor Jim Kenney and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf — decried the tragedy and pleaded with Congress to enact sensible gun control laws, to make sure those killed in the deadliest shooting in modern U.S. history did not die in vain.

Those in the crowd gathered at Thomas Paine Plaza in Center City expressed a similar sentiment: enough is enough.

“You can only get hit over the head with each thing so many times before it’s like, when are we actually going to do something?” said Northern Liberties resident Adam Whitlatch, a counselor at a charter school in North Philadelphia.

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As he listened to the speakers, he couldn’t help thinking about his students. Several times a year, Whitlatch said he learns one of their relatives has been shot or killed by gunfire. Several times a year, he hears his students casually accept those events.

“That’s tragic in it’s own way,” said Whitlatch. “It’s a death. It’s a human life.”

Val Johnson grew up in Philadelphia and moved to a small town in North Carolina to escape the kind of gun violence Whitlatch’s students experience. She’s back visiting the city this week and heard the vigil going on while walking with her family in Center City.

A gun owner, Johnson said she had to stop — to be around people who understand firsthand that firearms are used for more than hunting and self-defense. And that automatic weapons like the ones used in Las Vegas are unnecessary.

“We’re not going to war against each other,” said Johnson.

Rittenhouse Square resident Marissa Anderson, who is traveling to Las Vegas in about a week for vacation, said she’s not sure what can be done to turn the tide on the kind of gun violence that killed at least 59 people and injured 500 more on Sunday. Perhaps, it’s time for new blood in Washington, she said.

“It seems like we keep re-electing people that are not making any change,” said Anderson, who added that her upcoming trip will be “bittersweet.”

City Council President Darrell Clarke, whose district includes some of the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods, is also scratching his head.

“I don’t know where we go and I don’t understand this,” said Clarke. “I see on TV where they literally have a crank because it can’t shoot fast enough. What kind of deer are you trying to shoot?

“This is madness.”

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