Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey Jr. speaks at a rally pushing for gun control laws at the Capitol in Harrisburg on August 7, 2019. (Capital-Star photo)
We’re at a turning point.
We’re again at a moment where we decide who we are as a people. We’re again at a moment where we decide what matters, where we prioritize what’s important to us, where we again decide what kind of country we want to hand to our children.
Are we again going to be a state and nation that passively bears witness to carnage in our streets? In our shopping malls? Our schools? Our houses of worship? Our bars and restaurants? And are we again simply going to shrug, throw our hands in the air, and conclude that this is just the price of being an American in 2019?
The decisions our elected leaders make over the coming days and weeks on whether to debate proposals that are so common sense, so basic, so simple that we shouldn’t even have to debate them will be our legacy to history, our grant to posterity.
Again, we find ourselves asking simple questions. They’re the ones we failed to answer after Sandy Hook, Orlando, San Bernardino, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, Virginia Beach, and Parkland — after every mass shooting that’s shattered lives and families, destroyed bodies, and upended entire communities.
And they’re the ones we fail to answer every day, when people are gunned down in violent events that are all too routine in cities like Philadelphia.
Do we prioritize hope over fear? Do we put the greater good ahead of the bleatings of a noisy few who argue, falsely, that any attempt to limit their access to weapons whose primary intent is to kill, maim and wound is tantamount to repealing the Second Amendment?
Do we say to our children: You’ll one day live in a country where you won’t have to practice hiding in closets to protect yourself from a madman? Or do we say, it’s just the way it is, deal with it?
Do we surrender to fear? Do we give into hopelessness? Do we let violence triumph over that most fundamental of American rights, the one that Gov. Tom Wolf alluded to during a packed rally in the Capitol rotunda on Wednesday evening — the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?
“We all live in the same country,” Wolf said, answering a critic in the crowd. “We have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. … We’re not trying to take anybody’s rights away. We’re trying to preserve our own.”
That’s the only answer that matters. The only one that makes any sense.
What we’re talking about here isn’t hard.
We’re talking about approving universal background checks, which, in poll after poll, Americans support in overwhelming numbers — irrespective of their party affiliation or tribal loyalties.
We’re talking about authorizing so-called “red flag” laws that would allow police and loved ones to obtain a court order, while respecting due process, to seize someone’s guns if they think that person poses a risk to themselves or to others.
“If President Trump, [Sen.] Lindsey Graham, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, [Sen.] Chuck Schumer, Sen. Bob Casey, and Sen. Pat Toomey can all agree that extreme risk protection orders are a necessary tool against gun violence then so can we in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” said Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery, who’s sponsoring the House version of the proposal.
Sen. Tom Killion, a Delaware County Republican, is sponsoring the Senate version.
Is there reason to be optimistic that any of this will actually happen in an institution that has proven almost pathologically averse to passing the most basic of reforms?
In the state Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, appeared to open the door to that debate, announcing that she plans to hold public hearings on the issue. But, she added, “symbolic steps on guns don’t save lives.”
“While every citizen feels urgency about action, the choices we make must be applicable across the state. A patchwork of local ordinances will prove more troublesome for law-abiding citizens than it will any impediment to individuals determined to act out on their rage,” Baker said in a statement issued by her office.
So maybe that’s a reason to hope. It has to be something. It has to be a start.
Otherwise, what do we say to the next Julia Mallory, a Harrisburg mom whose 17-year-old son, Julian, was gunned down in 2017? The young man was “peacemaker” with the community advocacy group Breaking the Chainz. Do we say, “Tough luck? We tried? You’re on your own?”
What do we say to the classroom teachers like Lauren Peck, of the activist group Moms Demand Action, who has to swallow back her own fear so that she can be a self-described “superhero” to her child and to her middle-school students?
“Sorry, we just couldn’t get it done? Make sure you hide the kids really well?”
Those are choices we should never have to ask our parents, our educators, our middle-school kids to make.
But every time we fail to act, that’s exactly what we do.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
“We’re the greatest nation on Earth. With the greatest people,” Casey said Wednesday. “I say we’re Americans. We’re going to act. We’re going to end this violence.”
We’re at a turning point.
We have the solutions within reach, a remedy within our grasp. There’s only one path forward. We have to be brave enough to take it.
It shouldn’t be this hard.
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