Discussing guns, violence and gun violence in Northwest Philadelphia

‘Street-Level Conversations’ is a discussion-based civic-engagement project in Northwest Philly. It combines facts and personal stories dealing with the issues most pertinent in our communities and seeks to inspire solutions. SLC aims to empower every member of the community to believe in the validity of their voice and the vital role they play in sharing it.

If you travel through Germantown’s business district, you’ll notice a trend of window signs with bold red letters reading “No Weapons Allowed.” They feature graphics of a knife and a handgun, displaying what essentially sets the tone in a frequently volatile environment.

As of Wednesday morning, the Philadelphia Police reported 263 homicides this year. That number that will grow, if it hasn’t already done so.

The plague of gun violence

People on the streets packing heat aimlessly kill and critically injure Philadephia residents, some of them children. As the school year commenced, two teens were shot (one in the leg and one in the arm) outside of a North Philadelphia subway stop in what police deemed as spillover from a high school rivalry.

Still, as many of us become numb to hearing about the daily crime, violence and death in the area, these questions remain: Why is gun violence so prevalent? Are we safe in public places? What can be done to stop the violence, if anything?

Youth-violence research, including that reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cites risk factors including diminished economic opportunities, high concentrations of poverty, high level of family disruption, low levels of community participation and socially disorganized neighborhoods.

Collectively numb

When Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles H. Ramsey appeared on ABC’s “This Week” in July to speak about Aurora, Co. movie-theater massacre, he said this:

“There will be a lot of talk, there will be a lot of discussion, there will be some debate. But this will fade into the background. … People will just go on and continue to be able to get their hands on guns and continue to inappropriately use those guns to commit violent acts on the streets of our cities.”

Grim as it may be, Ramsey’s outlook is bolstered by a lack of legislative push to tighten gun-control laws.

Over the last three decades, there have been more than 60 mass shootings nationwide, as reported in “A Guide to Mass Shooting in America.”

Aurora, Co. The Sikh temple in Wisconsin. Six killed and 13 injured, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, in Tucson, Ariz. Virginia Tech. Columbine High School. Et cetera.

The gun-control battle

In many of these tragedies, the weapons used — assault weapons, semiautomatic handguns and large amounts of ammunition — were bought legally. Gun advocates steadfastly argue that limiting access to guns and ammunition is an infringement of their second amendment rights.

In Pennsylvania, Senate Bill 273, commonly referred to as the “Castle Doctrine,” calls for an end to the law that currently limits regulation of firearms and ammunition between municipalities.

Despite being passed in the summer of 2011, the bill was stalled this summer as 30 amendments were filed.

These amendments call for a ban on “commonly owned” semi-automatic firearms, a “ballistic imaging” mandate and a “one-handgun-a-month” rationing.” Now one month back from summer recess, the Pennsylvania General Assembly has not yet made final decisions on the bill.

One of the few programs that seeks to end gun violence in the area is the Philadelphia Gun Removal Program.

The program was created to promote community safety throughout Philly neighborhoods and helps families and neighbors get guns out of their homes and off of the streets. Anyone can ask the task force to remove illegal firearms, particularly those possessed by juveniles, and no one will face criminal prosecution.

Meanwhile, in Germantown, the “No Weapons Allowed” signs remain.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.