Philly students take steps to demand action on gun violence

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Around 250 young people stood on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art Monday to show solidarity and continue demanding that politicians take action in changing gun policies. Many held signs bearing names and pictures of lost loved ones, while some shared their experiences of loss.

Journalist Helen Ubinas, who organized the event for a third year in a row, said she wants to focus attention on gun violence in Philadelphia. At some point, she hopes to let the youth take over so their voices can be heard.

“We should all be very inspired by what Philadelphia students are doing and what they’re thinking,” said Ubinas, a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News. “In many ways, we have the leaders we’re seeing in Florida right here in Philadelphia.”

Niyaa Dupree, 16, a student at Building 21, said Monday politicians value guns more than black lives.

“We get shot every day,” she said. “There’s no laws. There’s nothing being done about us being killed every day in the streets. When the day comes that I am as important as a gun, then that’s the day that I’ll be happy.”

Ciani Newkirk, 15, a student at Parkway Center City Middle College, said she knows a lot of people who’ve lost someone. And she lost a cousin in 2010.

Lawmakers should visit the city for a better understanding of the issue, she suggested.

“Maybe they should visit a neighborhood in Philadelphia or walk down the streets and see what it’s like to spend a day in Philadelphia,” she said. “Maybe they’ll see what we’re talking about, and they won’t think that it’s something that happens just because.”

Mayor Jim Kenney and City Councilwoman Helen Gym also made appearances to show support.

The city is doing its best to address the problem, Kenney said, but state and federal lawmakers are making it difficult to reduce access to illegal guns.

The Giffords Law Center’s annual gun law scorecard gave Pennsylvania a C for its gun laws.

The grade would be higher, according to the report, if the state required background checks on private sales of long guns; allowed local governments to regulate firearms; and required owners to report lost or stolen firearms.

Furthermore, Pennsylvania doesn’t require gun owners to have a license.

More than 520 people have been shot in the city this year, according to recent estimates. Last year at this time, the toll was 490.

“We’re doing our best under terrible circumstances, created by a state government and a state Legislature that’s in love with guns and a president that worships the Second Amendment more than the First,” Kenney said.

Gym said there must be more opportunities for “people’s voices to be amplified.”

“A legislation that opposes common-sense gun laws is in complete opposition to the will of the people,” said Gym. “The majority of people support common-sense gun laws. And that is what forums like this are really helping us prove.”

A recent poll by Franklin and Marshall College found that a majority of registered voters in Pennsylvania support stricter gun laws, but that has yet to translate into significant legislation.

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