Looking for common ground in the effort to prevent gun violence
● By Steven Hoffman
Every year, more than 33,000 Americans are killed as a result of gun violence—and tens of thousands more people are injured.
Gun Sense Chester County held a forum about preventing gun violence at the Oxford Presbyterian Church in Oxford on Oct. 24, focusing on existing gun regulations and the exploration for common ground between gun rights advocates and people who want stricter gun regulations.
The presentation began with a talk by Starr Cummin Bright, a gun violence victim. She explained to the audience how she was shot in a church in Chester County 26 years ago, and has suffered from a lot of nerve damage and pain ever since. The experience convinced her that tougher gun laws are needed to protect the innocent from gun violence.
“I don't want anyone to go through what I have for the last 26 years,” she said. She is a member of the Gun Sense Chester County board because she wants to do anything she can to prevent others from becoming an innocent victim of gun violence.
Bright drew a distinction between law-abiding citizens who own guns for hunting or for their own protection and those who commit crimes with firearms.
“I come from a family of gun owners,” she said. “I never questioned it.”
Her father served during World War II and owned guns. Her husband taught all three of their kids how to shoot. So she's not inherently against guns or gun ownership. But she does believe that the gun regulations need to be tightened to help prevent gun violence.
“We are not, as a group, against guns,” she said. “but we want to find common ground so that common sense legislation can be approved.”
Wayne Hall talked about how a priority should be to “reduce unnecessary injury, unnecessary suffering, and unnecessary death” as a result of gun violence.
Hall said that he strongly believes in the Second Amendment right to bear arms, but we must figure out ways to reduce the number of victims of gun violence. Hall talked about the federal and state background checks that are currently enforced, and how even neighboring states can have very different gun regulations. In Pennsylvania, for example, there is no law that prevents a person from carrying a firearm, except in those places where firearms are strictly forbidden, such as a school, a post office, or a county court building. However, in neighboring Maryland, the gun laws are much more restrictive. Even in Pennsylvania, there can be different regulations in a city such as Philadelphia because, as a first class city, it has the authority to have different gun regulations than the state. Hall said that it's very important for people to know what the gun regulations are if they are going to be carrying a firearm.
“Gun laws change, so do the research on the laws that apply to you,” Hall said.
Hall outlined the nine situations that could exist where a person would not be allowed to legally possess a firearm under the Gun Control Act:
~ Persons under indictment for, or convicted of, any felony crime punishable by imprisonment for a term exceeding one year;
~ Fugitives from justice;
~ Persons who are unlawful users of, or addicted to, any controlled substance;
~ Persons who have been committed to a mental institution or who have been declared by a court as mentally unfit to own a firearm;
~ Illegal aliens or aliens who were admitted to the United States under a nonimmigrant visa;
~ Persons who have been dishonorably discharged from the Armed Forces;
~ Persons who have renounced their United States citizenship;
~ Persons subject to certain types of restraining orders;
~ and persons who have been convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence.
With some people unable to purchase firearms, that creates concerns about straw purchasers—people who will buy a gun for people who are not legally able to purchase the firearm for themselves.
“Straw purchases are absolutely illegal,” Hall said.
Gun Sense Chester County was formed in March of this year with the purpose of helping educate citizens about existing gun regulations and promoting thoughtful discussion identify common ground.
A handout at the forum identified a few examples of the common ground that might already exist based on Pew Research polling conducted earlier this year.
A majority of gun owners and non-gun owners agree that we should:
~ Have a pre-purchase background check for all gun purchases;
~ Keep convicted felons and those with mental illnesses from purchasing guns;
~ Keep those on the federal “no fly” list from purchasing guns;
~ Require a permit for an individual to “conceal carry” a gun;
~ Create a federal database to track gun sales;
~ In gun-owning households, have people take gun safety courses, educate children about gun safety, and store guns in locked locations.
Hall said that he is a gun owner himself, but he is very careful to keep the firearms locked up to avoid any accidents.
“I'm concerned about the safe of the people in my home,” he explained.
For more information about Gun Sense Chester County, visit the website at www.gunsensecc.com.