In the wake of the elementary school shooting in Uvalde, Texas on Tuesday, Philadelphia lawmakers and activists are demanding stronger gun laws for Pennsylvania, arguing that restricting firearm access could help prevent mass shootings as well as the daily exchanges of bullets on Philly streets.
A mid-day rally Friday at Congregation Rodeph Shalom on North Broad street drew dozens of people from a range of races and backgrounds, some from the inner city and some from the suburbs. Some parents were driven by fear of a mass shooting at their child’s school, and others by concern for kids playing outside in their own neighborhoods. Mothers who’ve lost children to gun violence attended, as did people who’ve lost loved ones to suicide involving a gun.
Children and teenagers took the podium to express the sense of danger they feel, both in the streets and in the classroom.
High schooler Caprice Cowan spoke of the loss of her cousin to gun violence, and the compounded distress she’s feeling in the days following the Texas tragedy.
“Kids should be able to go to school without the risk of getting shot,” she said. “School is supposed to be a place where kids grow and learn and form friendships, not where they can get injured.”
There have been 171 shooting deaths in Philadelphia this year, following the 562 homicides in 2021, according to the Office of the Controller. So far this year, 75 people under the age of 18 have been shot, making up 9% of total fatal and nonfatal shooting victims.
Democratic Senator Sharif Street said that the gun violence crisis has been the impetus behind many efforts at the state level, including bills awaiting action in Harrisburg that would implement extreme risk protection orders, prohibit the sale of assault weapons, and require the reporting of lost and stolen handguns.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf blasted legislators for refusing to act.
“They would rather cave in, cravenly, to the gun manufacturing lobby than pass common sense legislation that would keep children from dying,” he said.
Republican lawmakers have long refused to move forward with any restriction to firearm access, arguing that such policies are a violation of Second Amendment rights.
Yesterday, Pennsylvania Republicans voted not to move an assault weapon ban to the full floor for a vote. This is one of four gun-related bills that have been awaiting a vote for 18 months — the others address safe storage, extreme risk protection orders, and state-imposed restrictions on Philadelphia’s ability to pass its own laws.
Philadelphia City Council faced a setback in its own battle with the state this week when their lawsuit against Harrisburg, in which they argued that the city should be able to pass its own firearm laws such as permit-to-purchase legislation, failed in the Commonwealth Court.
Council president Darrell Clarke said in an email that they’ll now bring that case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
“Philadelphians – as well as our fellow citizens in other Pennsylvania cities and towns – have a constitutional right to life and liberty, and the Commonwealth and General Assembly, by their utter failure to enact stronger gun laws, are violating those constitutional rights,” he wrote.
CeasefirePA, the statewide anti-gun violence advocacy organization that spearheaded the rally, called on parents in the crowd to send in a cherished item belonging to their child, to be forwarded to Republican leadership in Harrisburg to convince them of the urgency of the problem.
“Whether we’ve already lost our children or whether we’re worried about them being next, this could be it,” said executive director Adam Garber. “It could be the favorite shirt, the lock of hair that they held over when they had their first haircut.”
Some Philly gun violence prevention advocates say that shootings in the street, which primarily affect Black residents, should be drawing the same level of outcry as a mass shooting.
Rickey Duncan, executive director of an anti-violence nonprofit called the NOMO Foundation, said that when news of the Texas shooting came he was busy helping families process a shooting that happened outside a school earlier this month.
“The same outcome that we have today for the reason we’re fighting against violence, we should’ve had that same outcome when that little boy came out of school and had to be killed,” Duncan said. “I should’ve seen the same amount of people, I should have seen all of these cameras.”
Other speakers at the rally called for expanding community programs for families and mental health counseling in schools.
If you or someone you know has been affected by gun violence in Philadelphia, you can find grief support and resources here.