Lawmakers, advocates, survivors rally against ‘toxin’ of gun violence

Produced By: - March 23, 2023 3:11 pm

One by one, the survivors stepped to the lectern. They recited the names of the dead. They told their stories. They called for changes in gun laws. And they offered the hope that it might never happen again.

It was a familiar scene. One that’s been played out at the Pennsylvania state Capitol over and over again during the last five years — whether on the building’s stone steps or in its ornate main rotunda. 

For years, they went home empty-handed.

But with Democrats in control of the state House for the first in a decade, and with a majority-Democrat state House panel minutes away from holding a hearing on the causes and solutions to gun violence, those advocates came to Harrisburg on Thursday with one thing they said they had not had for a long time.

Hope. Hope that this time, they said, lawmakers might finally act.

But it will take hope — along with savvy lobbying to get the bills through the divided General Assembly. While Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro has said he supports common sense gun violence reduction measures, Republicans who control the state Senate remain the primary obstacle.

On Thursday, advocates said they hoped Republican opponents would heed their pleas.

“It is so simple: Pass laws that restrict guns,” said Lisa Boeving-Learned, a veteran and former police officer who spoke during a more than hour-long rally on the Capitol steps under a gray and chilly March sky. 

“Safe storage works. Extreme risk protection orders work. Background checks definitely work,” Boeving-Learned continued, ticking off a list of reforms that advocates have spent years unsuccessfully pursuing under Republican control of the 203-member House and 50-member state Senate. 

“I am sick of the blood running in our streets,” Boeving-Learned concluded.

Dr. Eugene F. Reilly, a trauma physician at Reading Hospital, tallied the human cost of the violence that claims the lives of about 1,600 state residents every year, according to the gun violence reduction group CeaseFirePa. 

“We are witness to the unimaginable damage caused by firearms to patients’ bodies, their lives, their families and their communities,” Reilly said. “And while tissues may heal with time, post-traumatic stress and the crushing financial debt is often carried by the victims long after the physical wounds have turned to scars.

“No one is immune. Gunshot wounds [are] not something that only happens to other people,” he continued. “As with any epidemic, it will take a collective effort and will to make a difference.” 

Speakers at Thursday’s rally were quick to point out that gun violence —whether through mass shootings or firearms suicides —does not respect geographic, class, or racial or ethnic lines, leaving no section of the state untouched.

Jeani Garcia, of Allentown, whose son Kareem Fedd, was shot and killed in 2012 at the age of 17 in an act of gangland retribution, called for lawmakers to pass a long-sought law requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen weapons to law enforcement. 

“Children in my community have been to more funerals than they have graduations,” she said. 

Pennsylvania House Speaker Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, said she’s also seen the effects of gun violence first hand in her West Philadelphia district.

“We have seen them happen, and we have seen people say, ‘I am praying on that situation … I’m thinking about that situation … my heart goes out to you,’” McClinton said. “But there’s been no major changes in our laws, on the federal level, or on the state level. And yet, and still, in my own backyard, right where I live in West Philadelphia, we are too familiar with gun violence. We are too familiar with victimization. We are too familiar with mothers losing their children. And children losing their mothers. It has been happening again and again and again.”

But after five years of hard – often frustrating work — advocates said the shift in control in the lower chamber had made them optimistic about the potential for change.

“You voted like your lives depended on it,” CeaseFirePa Executive Director Adam Garber told the crowd. “And because of millions of Pennsylvanians, we have a gun-safety majority in the House.

“It matters that you’re here,” Garber continued. But, he added, “our work isn’t done until these bills are on Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk.”

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.

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