Searching for common ground in the effort to prevent gun violence
By Steven Hoffman
The statistics are horrific.
More than 35,000 people are killed each year in the U.S. during incidents that involve guns. Another 80,000 people are injured during incidents where guns are used.
A mass shooting—defined as an incident where four or more people are wounded or killed by a gun—takes place somewhere in the U.S. each day. And if it didn't happen today, it will happen twice tomorrow.
The senseless gun violence has to stop.
That was just one of the messages during a July 19 presentation by Gun Sense Chester County at the West Grove Friends Meeting on East Harmony Road in West Grove. Another message that was delivered by Ann Colby-Cummings, the chairperson of Gun Sense Chester County, is that we all need to work together and find common ground on the issue so that sensible gun laws can be enacted.
The hour-long presentation focused on existing gun regulations, both at the federal and state level, and the exploration for common ground between gun rights advocates and people who want stricter gun regulations. Gun violence affects everyone, Colby-Cummings explained, so everyone needs to be a part of the discussion about solutions.
“Everyone has a right to be heard,” Colby-Cummings said. “The presence of guns in our society affects us all.”
To illustrate the point that we're all affected by the presence of guns, Colby-Cummings asked how many people in attendance knew of someone who had been impacted by gun violence. About half the people raised their hands.
Gun Sense Chester County was formed in March of 2017 as an off-shoot of a similar Chester County group. Its purpose is to help educate citizens about existing gun regulations and to promote thoughtful discussion to identify common ground.
The discussion part is essential. Colby-Cummings explained that arguing about gun regulations doesn't help. Taking up entrenched positions doesn't, either. Neither side of the argument listens to the other, and if that continues, nothing will be accomplished.
Colby-Cummings explained that the focus should be on those areas where people can agree on measures that would help reduce gun violence without restricting the gun rights of law-abiding citizens. Advocating for actions to be taken to prevent gun violence is another part of Gun Sense Chester County's mission, so they are in frequent contact with lawmakers to urge them to support legislation that might improve the situation.
What are some examples of the common ground where there seems to be agreement?
Statistics show that people are in favor of having a background check required before gun purchases. There is also broad support for restricting gun ownership for felons or people who are seriously mentally ill and pose a threat to themselves and others. There is wide agreement that anyone who is included on the federal “no fly” terrorist watch list shouldn't be allowed to buy a gun. Another area of general agreement is that anyone who wants to conceal carry a gun should have to apply for a special license or permit to do so.
Colby-Cummings emphasized that Gun Sense Chester County includes both gun rights advocates and those who favor stronger gun control regulations, and they want the differing viewpoints to be included in their advocacy efforts.
“We have a variety of people in our group,” she explained. “We have gun owners on our board of directors.”
The group is not trying to deprive anyone of their Second Amendment right to bear arms, Colby-Cummings said, but they are looking for ways to reduce the unnecessary deaths and injuries that occur as a result of gun violence. Gun laws have been consistently weakened since the 1970s, which is one reason for the increased gun violence that makes headlines today.
To illustrate how gun violence can happen to anyone at any time, Colby-Cummings shared the story of Starr Cummin Bright, a local gun violence victim. Bright was shot by a stranger while she was attending a meeting in a Chester County church in 1991. Bright survived, but she has suffered from a lot of nerve damage and pain ever since the incident.
Colby-Cummings explained that gun violence can take many different forms—the mass shootings tend to get the most attention, but guns are also used by distressed people attempting suicide and in incidents of domestic violence. Hundreds of people die each year as a result of accidental shootings, and countless others are injured.
Education and proper legislation can help reduce the number of gun violence incidents.
“I want people to feel safe in our communities,” Colby-Cummings said.
For more information about current gun laws, proposed legislation, or the outreach efforts of Gun Sense Chester County, visit the website at www.gunsensecc.com.
The Memorial to the Lost
Photo by Steven Hoffman
Molly Wood, a member of the West Grove Friends Meeting, helped coordinate bringing the Memorial to the Lost to West Grove. The display of 70 shirts that memorializes victims of gun violence was visible to motorists as they drove through West Grove. There were 70 shirts on display—53 to honor and represent the Chester County residents who have been killed by guns in the last 10 years, and 17 to honor the victims of the Parkland, Florida mass shooting that took place in February. Each shirt has the name, age, and date of each victim's death.
Wood explained that the Memorial to the Lost is a touring memorial that has been set up at numerous churches as part of Heeding God's Call to End Gun Violence, an organization that is made up of multi-faith communities that are banding together to reduce illegal gun trafficking. One of the goals of the organization is to prevent straw purchases of guns. Straw purchasing is when a person buys a gun, or many guns, for resale to people who cannot legally buy weapons for themselves because they have a criminal record, certain domestic violence or mental illness issues, or because they simply aren't old enough to buy them.
Another informative event will take place at the West Grove Friends Meeting on Thursday, July 26, when officials from the Southern Chester County Regional Police have been invited to make a presentation that is open to the public. The talk begins at 7 p.m. The West Grove Friends Meeting is located at 153 East Harmony Road in West Grove.