In the midst of election turmoil and craziness, it can be discouraging to pay close attention to what goes on in public life. There is so much self-interest, hypocrisy, and meanness. But then, we need to remember that real issues underlie elections and we can take our lead from those candidates and activists who promote a genuine vision of the public interest.
Among the most noteworthy of these, to me, are individuals fighting to prevent gun violence in this country. After years of carnage, our senses are dulled by so much shooting. Where was that shooting? How many dead in that one? What kind of gun? A relative accidentally shot a 4-year-old girl in Philadelphia and someone killed 8 sleeping members of a family in Ohio (Daily Local, April 16 and 23). In a few days, we won’t even remember.
But we all surely remember in 2012 when a deranged 20-year-old killed 20 elementary school students and 6 school staff, after killing his mother (who had enabled his gun habit) and before killing himself. The even worse news is that that one morning of terror accounted for only about one-third of this country’s average of 90 gun deaths a day. (More than half of those are suicides carried out by people who should have treatment, not access to guns.)
Many people in the Sandy Hook community, including parents who had lost children in the massacre, banded together to try to save others from having the same tragic experience. They could have retreated into despair, but some of them formed “Team 26,” the Sandy Hook Bicycle Riders, who every year have bicycled from Connecticut to Washington DC in order to plead for gun violence prevention. Why “Team 26”? To honor the 26 victims in the school.
You can see details and photos in “Team 26 makes stop in West Chester area” in the Daily Local News, 4/12/16.
On April 10, I was among the 35 or so local residents who welcomed the riders to our area at the Holiday Inn south of West Chester, in an event organized by the Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence.
In a gathering inside, the Sandy Hook Riders and local residents made clear they are united in advocating to improve background checks and gun safety laws.
Tom Buglio, leader of the Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, led a wry chant of “There is no safe place” (sadly, not even schools and churches) and introduced Sandy Hook Riders spokesperson Monte Frank.
According to Frank, since the Sandy Hook Riders began 4 years ago, 90,000 Americans have died by gun violence. The NRA said the “Connecticut effect” would fade from public consciousness; but, Frank said, “the Connecticut effect is becoming the US effect.” Parents who have lost children to gun violence were introduced, followed by speakers in political life.
State Representative Madeleine Dean (D-153) spoke of participating with her three children in the Million Mom March, which in 2000 rallied for more effective gun laws in Washington DC. Dean is the chief sponsor of the proposed PA House Bill 1030, which mandates firearms restraining orders in cases such as protection from abuse orders.
Mary Ellen Balchunis, candidate for the 7th PA seat in the US House, recalled at the 2000 march seeing women bearing the banner “Congress – stop taking bribes from NRA.” “Congress clearly has no heart,” she added.
Marty Molloy, candidate in the 9th PA Senate district, said the issue is personal for him, as he has lost students to gun violence. The Riders inspire him, he said, to persevere in the effort to save lives from guns: “we must fight for what we know is right.”
Terry Rumsey and Robin Lasersohn, leaders of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy, called on the group to learn the power of sacrifice and to attend a rally in Harrisburg on May 16 backing House Bill 1010 (Background Checks for Long Gun Private Sales).
The Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence has also endorsed 2 current candidates in closely contested races who have taken particularly strong positions to combat gun violence: Joe Sestak (US Senate) and Marty Molloy (PA Senate district 9).
As you can see in CCCPGV’s compilation of current bills promoting background checks and other measures to protect the public, the good news is that some of our state legislators from Chester County have agreed to support remedial action. But given the bottlenecks created by legislative leadership, elected representatives may never get a chance to show, in a recorded vote, where their sentiments lie,
It hardly matters who wins the Pennsylvania primary contests (and in the 9th Senate District, an actual seat) on Tuesday if this country can’t find a path to solve some of the important issues that keep dragging us down.
As long as our national government and many state capitals remain virtually gridlocked, elected officials will be unable to respond to even the most pressing public appeals for change.
Gun violence prevention should be an urgent exception to gridlock. Lives depend on it, every day.