August 21, 2019
Local Legislators Hold Town Hall on Gun Violence in Pa
Sen. Tim Kearney (D-26) and Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165)Source: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
Sen. Tim Kearney (D-26), Moms Demand Action, Cease Fire Pa, and Delco United were joined by Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165), Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-161), Rep. Mike Zabel (D-163), and Rep. David Delloso (D-162) for a discussion and open forum on gun violence at the Delaware County Intermediate Unit (DCIU) yesterday evening.
“That is what these homegrown terrorist want: a state of fear,” Kearney added. “We can not let them hold us back from being safe in our own democracy.”
Americans are 25 times more likely to die by gun violence than residents of other developed countries, said Melissa Carden, a local volunteer group leader for Moms Demand Action. She also mentioned that 52 women are killed by current or former partners with guns in America monthly.
“It’s not mental illness,” she said. “All other countries have similar levels of mental illness. What they don’t have is weak gun laws and easy access to guns; that is a uniquely American problem.”
While legislators discussed House and Senate bills they’re in support of during their panel, Delloso stated that he would be open to a ban on magazine guns.
“There are so many semantics when we talk about what is or isn’t an assault weapon,” Delloso said. “But I don’t think a weapon of war belongs in a civilian’s home.”
As the attendees settled into their seats, Kearney began to introduce himself and the rest of the panel to the audience.
Sen. Tim Kearney (D-26) introduces himself to the audienceSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
“We organized this event because we desperately need to address the growing problem that’s enveloping our country and community,” Kearney said. “Every day in America, an average of 100 people are killed by guns.”
Suicide represents nearly two thirds of all gun deaths in America, Kearney said as he continued to cite statistics. He also said that we’ve had 261 mass shootings so far this year in America, compared to the 269 mass shootings we had in 2014.
“We hadn’t even finished drying our eyes over El Paso, where a white supremacist used an assault-style weapon, when we woke up to the news that nine people had been gunned down in Dayton, Ohio,” Kearney continued.
In spite of decades worth of attempts at gun legislation reform, Kearney said that we still have nothing to show for it: no universal background checks, no bans on assault weapons, and so on.
“We really have nothing to show but an endless recycling of our thoughts and prayers,” Kearney said. “Well, I’m the son of a Catholic school teacher. In 16 years of Catholic education, I was taught that faith must be accompanied by good work. Our thoughts and prayers must be accompanied by policy change. Otherwise, our words are empty.”
Kearney proceeded to stress the importance of organizing town halls and having discussion with our legislators to invoke effective policy change.
“Our communities deserve leaders who listen to them,” Kearney said. “That’s why I’m here, that’s why my colleagues are here. Together, we want to do what’s hard and achieve what’s great.”
Then, Kearney introduced O’Mara, who spoke of how gun violence has affected her personally throughout her life.
Rep. Jennifer O’Mara (D-165) shares her storySource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
“In 2003, many families on Sunday, Feb 2 were getting ready to go to church or the grocery store, but for me, everything changed for my entire family.” O’Mara said. “We found my dad, a firefighter in Philadelphia, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound. He had committed suicide after working for 25 years as a firefighter and serving in the US Marine Corp.”
That Sunday was devastating for her family, O’Mara said. The loss of her father left her mother, who hadn’t worked in 15 years, to raise and support three kids, ages 13, 10, and 2, alone with just her high school diploma.
“When I got into college, gun violence was threatening to impact me again,” O’Mara continued. “I was dating someone who became addicted to Heroin. After we broke up, he started stalking me, and he was the owner of a firearm.”
“Now, I live with someone who was shot by an assault rifle,” she added. “He served two tours of duty in Afghanistan, has two purple hearts, and an army accommodation. I get to see what the impacts are of gun violence when it hits a human body and how you go on to try to live after that.”
O’Mara then shared that a constituent had asked her earlier that day why she had felt the need to talk about her father’s death when she ran for office.
Afterwards, Carden spoke about gun suicides, their impact and prevalence in our country.
Melissa Carden raises awareness about gun suicidesSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
“Although the media focuses on mass shootings, our gun violence problem goes well beyond that,” Carden said. “It goes beyond the unacceptable, daily gun violence in Philadelphia, as well.”
Carden said that individual gun homicides took the lives of over 500 Pennsylvanians last year. Every seven hours, a Pennsylvanian dies by gun homicide.
“Our homicide deaths pale in comparison to the deaths from gun suicide,” Carden added. “66 percent of gun deaths in America are suicides and Pennsylvania is consistently above the national suicide average. Every nine hours, a Pennsylvanian dies by gun suicide, which is approximately 1,000 Pennsylvanians annually.”
She suggested solutions to gun violence, such as background checks and red flag laws, which have been proven to reduce the deaths by gun violence without affecting the rights of responsible gun owners.
“In the last 20 years, three and a half million illegal gun sales have been blocked by a background check,” Carden said. “But many states, notably Pa, permit prohibited gun purchases from unlicensed dealers on the internet, at gun shows, and other unlicensed market places.”
88 percent of Americans support background checks on every sale of every gun, Carden noted.
“One thing you can do is text ‘CHECKS’ to 64433 to be connected with Senators Casey (D-PA) and Toomey (R-PA) and tell them you support background checks on all gun sales,” Carden said.
Carden then discussed red flag laws, also known as Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), which are in legislation that is now pending in Pa.
“The red flag law or ERPO allows family members to alert the courts when a gun owner demonstrates a serious risk of harm to themselves or others,” Carden explained. “This allows the courts to make an independent and neutral accommodation whether to restrict gun access temporarily for at risk individuals until the crisis passes.”
On average, states that have enacted red flag laws have seen a 10 percent drop in gun suicides, which could save 100 lives each year in Pa, Carden said.
Shira Goodman of Cease Fire Pa, the moderator of the event, then gave panelists the opportunity to discuss the House and Senate bills they’re in support of and why.
Shira Goodman explains the format of the panel and open forumSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
“The very first policy I hosted when I took office four years ago was on the universal background check bill,” Krueger said. “The bill has been introduced every session – sometimes by a Democrat, sometimes by a Republican, sometimes by both.”
Rep. Leanne Krueger (D-161) discusses the importance of universal background checksSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
When the bill on universal background checks, HB 673, was voted on last session, Krueger said it had lost by just one vote.
Current House and Senate bills pertaining to gun legislationSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
As a Vice Chair of the Pa State Caucus, Krueger mentioned that she has signed on to 13 different bills regarding gun legislation.
“It’s time, folks,” Krueger said as she began to wrap up her speech. “We’ve had 12 mass shootings in Pa this year, and that’s 12 too many.”
O’Mara agreed with Krueger that universal background checks are essential, but she believes the most important piece of legislation is implementing ERPOs correctly.
“We have to make sure that we protect the due process of people who are or aren’t accused of being threatening and we have to protect the people whose lives are being lost,” O’Mara said.
After encouraging attendees to share their thoughts and feelings about gun violence with their local legislators, Zabel continued to stress the importance of getting involved face to face and sharing your story.
Rep. Mike Zabel (D-163) encourages the audience to reach out to their local legislatorsSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
“Explain what the effects are for you,” Zabel said. “Tell us about the fear you feel when you drop your kids off at school. Help us understand the hopelessness, despair, anger, and sadness we feel every time [gun violence] happens.”
Pulling from his background as a prosecutor, Zabel cited the Second Amendment, which protects the gun rights of a militia.
There was a mixed reaction among the crowd, as many clapped and a few others shouted in protest of his statement.
“There is no constitutional right to own an assault weapon and don’t let people who try to shout over others to tell you otherwise,” Zabel continued. “It’s simply not there.”
He continued to discuss ERPOs, which are supported by members of the House and Senate on both sides.
“I’m a background check guy and for the ERPOs,” Delloso said. “There’s a smart way to do it and it’s gotta be hard.”
Rep. David Delloso (D-162) discusses ERPOs and magazine gun bansSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
Delloso also said that many state police are in favor of ERPOs, but they don’t want to find themselves with an “armory” of weapons they’ve confiscated from law abiding citizens.
“I do support the ERPOs and I think I could probably support a magazine ban,” he continued. “The fact that a guy can get a hundred rounds off and keep me pinned is an issue for me.”
Sharing his background in the US Marine Corp, Delloso said that while he never had to live through combat, it only took two or three combat simulations before he died.
“It’s a hard thing to grab hold of when you’re a 22 or 23 year old kid,” Delloso said. “You think you’re playing war, you’re indestructible and invisible, and all the sudden you’re beeping from a round that came from a guy with a machine gun out of nowhere.”
“The ERPO bill is a good bill with broad, bipartisan support that should pass,” Kearney said. “It’s something we should do right away, and it’s something that we can do.”
Then, John Linder of Delco United shared his experiences as a former mayor of Chester and his role in city council as the director of public safety.
John Linden shares his experiences with gun violenceSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
“A mass shooting is defined as anything over four or more,” said Linder. “But a mass shooting is when one person in your family gets killed by a gun and you can’t afford to lose them. That’s what a mass shooting is.”
After Jessica Frankl, another member of Delco United, explained the non-partisan movement behind their organization, the forum opened the floor for questions from the audience.
Jessica Frankl discusses the non-partisan movement behind Delco UnitedSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
“I’m here because this little guy right here,” said Brian M as she showed the panel and members of the audience a picture of his six week old son. “After everything in El Paso and Dayton, and being a new dad, I’m concerned that he’s going to walk into a school and be faced with what happened at Sandy Hook or any other event you can list. I’ve spoken with the upcoming generation at my church, Gen Z, and they have similar concerns as seniors as high school.”
Brian M showing a picture of his son to the panelists and audienceSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
Kearney responded with the importance of keeping the pressure on legislators to make changes to prevent school or mass shootings in the first place.
“I’m for the Second Amendment,” said another attendee. “From my research, you literally come into people’s houses without them knowing, take their weapons, and send them to jail. There have been people who were murdered due to red flag laws and I don’t see it anywhere near constitutional. These are our God given rights.”
Goodman then explained that red flag laws in Pa would not confiscate the gun owner’s firearms permanently. Rather, the court would decide upon a three to 12 month suspension – which the defendant could then petition for a sooner release from the ban after presenting evidence to support their case.
“More people have been murdered by hands and feet than assault rifles and shotguns put together,” said another member of the audience. “Your numbers are statistically insignificant.”
Constituent expresses concerns over the statistical significance of the gun violence dataSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
Zabel interjected, stating that the lives lost to gun violence are not insignificant.
“It may be absolutely true that more murders occur by hands and feet,” O’Mara added. “However, assault weapons were designed, as my husband who again, served two tours of duty in Afghanistan told me, to rapidly take down human bodies.”
An attendee named Renee said that we should be hitting people with love and positivity, not with violence.
Renee advocates for mass love over mass shootings on behalf of our community’s youthSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
“My brother, who would’ve been 36, died when he was five from a gunshot in the head in a candy store,” Renee said. “I know what it’s like to be with a relative who goes through that tragedy – and instead of going to the negative side or going to the government, they started with their mentality and how they treat everybody else.”
Other attendees shared opinions from both ends of the spectrum and offered solutions, such as putting more focus on counseling and social workers in our schools, or becoming more involved with the youth in communities heavily affected by gun violence.
Constituents present their questions during the open forumSource: Gun Violence Town Hall in Morton, Pa | Penelope Peru Photography
As the town hall drew to a close, legislators thanked the audience for attending and hung around to chat with individuals about their concerns.
Our local legislators are always encouraging constituents to share their opinions with them be it in person, over email, or via telephone. You can find out who your representatives are online and contact them to find out when their next events are and how you can get more involved in the cause.
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