Gun control and legislation to greatly reduce the threat of violence by those who use firearms has been at the top of the wish-list for members of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, whose membership majority includes several lawmakers who represent Philadelphia.
However, because of the lack of bipartisan support and a GOP-controlled legislature that regularly rebuke efforts to form laws that include gun control, lawmakers favoring such action must often take their fight to the streets — specifically the media.
“Gun violence in Pennsylvania is a public health crisis and an epidemic, particularly for communities of color,” said State Rep. Jordan Harris (D-186), the chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus (PLBC).
“It’s past time we start raising the level of attention on this tragic issue and demand more action … when children are being impacted, it’s time to call a state of emergency,” Harris said.
After the deadly shooting in Las Vegas earlier this fall that left 59 people dead and hundreds of others injured, House Republicans tabled a Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreation Act and Hearing Protection Act but the GOP remains against strong gun control measures.
In October, Rep. Scott Perry (R-4) skewered gun control advocates for demanding measures be taken after the Vegas massacre.
Perry said gun control isn’t the answer.
“Infringing on the Constitutional rights of millions of legal gun owners and giving a false sense of security to the public is not the solution,” he said.
Harris said he isn’t currently calling for new gun laws, but instead a coordinated effort and stronger enforcements of the laws already have in place.
“By providing the resources necessary, we can finally address the issue of gun violence that has traumatized our communities for far too long,” Harris said.
Last year, there were more than 10,000 incidents involving firearms across Pennsylvania, with nearly 5,000 of them taking place in Philadelphia, according to the PLBC.
While one Pennsylvanian is murdered with a gun every 17 hours, communities of color are disproportionately affected, PLBC lawmakers said.
African Americans and Hispanics represent nearly 79 percent of all gun homicides in Pennsylvania and, from, 2005 to 2014, Pennsylvania ranked fourth in the nation for the rate of gun homicides of African Americans.
Although African Americans make up about 12 percent of Pennsylvania’s population, they account for more than 69 percent of gun homicides in the commonwealth, according to statistics furnished by the PLBC.
Moreover, Hispanics in Pennsylvania ranked second in the nation for the highest gun homicide rate of Hispanics, second only to Arizona.
“Just as we came together to address the opioid crisis, we must address the epidemic of gun violence with real resources and tangible solutions to keep our communities safe,” said Rep. Donna Bullock (D-195), the vice chairwoman of the PLBC.
“While tragedies such as the Las Vegas and Sutherland Springs shootings garner national attention, the world is often silent when these incidents take place in poor, urban communities. I’m tired of sending thoughts and prayers — we need action now,” Bullock said.
Senseless shootings have become the norm in far too many communities, said Rep. Jake Wheatley (D-19). “It’s not just about guns, but it’s more about poverty and the unmet needs of traumatized people,” he said.
Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-179) said he buried a brother due to gun violence.
“I couldn’t agree more that this is a public health issue which plagues our communities. For me, this is more than a political issue, it’s personal,” Dawkins said.
To see the blood of children and even older ones spilled on the streets because of gun violence is heartbreaking, said Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-191).
“Far too many innocent lives are cut short and families are devastated. This crisis must become important to all of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle so we can better protect Pennsylvania’s families in both rural and urban areas,” McClinton said.
Rep. Ed Gainey (D-24) offered a prayer for those affected by gun violence and also called it a public health crisis.
“As a legislative body, we must take the necessary steps to create laws that curb gun violence and the devastation it brings to our communities,” he said. “My hope is that in the upcoming legislative session, we put people before special interests so we can improve humanity and take the right steps to improve gun control.”