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Seminar on gun safety leads to broader discussion of gun violence

07/31/2018 10:30AM ● Published by J. Chambless

Mario Raimato, an officer with the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department, addressed an audience about gun safety on July 26.

By Richard L. Gaw
Staff Writer

What began as a simple discussion about gun safety last Thursday night at the Quaker Meeting House in West Grove eventually took on the familiar tone of polarizing opinions that echo the American narrative on gun violence. It also heard the words of a local police officer, who shared his unyielding commitment to protecting lives.

Slowly, it also found a common ground.

Sponsored by Heeding God's Call to End Gun Violence's “Memorial to the Lost” tribute to the 53 Chester County residents who have been killed by guns in the last 10 years, the two-hour seminar invited Officer Mario Raimato of the Southern Chester County Regional Police Department to provide tips on how gun owners can better protect their property from being stolen.

Raimato emphasized the importance of storing the serial numbers of a gun in a private place, away from the gun itself, to help identify the gun's owner in the event of theft, and to help police identify firearms.

If you have any handguns or anything of value, write down the serial numbers. Do not put the serial number list anywhere near the guns, because if someone steals the guns, they are going to take the numbers with them,” he said. “Put the numbers in a safe deposit box at a bank. If I run [a background check on] the guns and it comes back that it is stolen, then we can better identify and make arrests.”

During a question-and-answer period, Raimato addressed questions related to police training, permits and background checks, and what he saw was a decrease in gang-related violence in the Regional Police's coverage zone in the last several years.

During a discussion about the proliferation and sale of assault weapons in the area – identified as semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 – the mood of the conversation suddenly shifted.

I can guarantee that there are AR-15s and AK-47s within 100 yards of public areas,” said Nick Proietto, a gun owner who assured those in the audience that no citizen is allowed to buy a fully-automatic weapon without a Class 3 Federal Firearms license, “which costs beaucoup bucks and [requires] tons and tons of background checks,” he said. “Most people can't afford one, so most people don't have them.”

Proietto owns four semi-automatic rifles, and said he uses the guns for enjoyment and recreation. He said he is in favor of their sales, “as long as you're a law-abiding citizen and do not have a record, I think you should be allowed to buy a gun.

You have every right to oppose so long as you don't stand in my way as far as my exercising my Second Amendment rights, as long as I am a law-abiding citizen,” he said. “You can oppose anything you want. Just don't get in my way and infringe on my rights when it comes to that, because I am not a criminal. As such, I don't think that it should be illegal for those who are law abiding. Law abiding people are not those who are doing crimes and shooting up Las Vegas.”

Proietto defended the National Rifle Association for its support of the Second Amendment, which he said supports his rights as a gun owner. One member of the audience said that the Second Amendment may have been applicable when the nation's forefathers originally drafted its content, but that they could not envision a nation where the flexibility of the law would include semi-automatic weapons.

My children in school deserve to be able to school and not have to be constantly looking over their shoulder to see who is coming into the building,” the audience member said. “I want my children and my schools to be safe, and these school shootings, the vast majority have been done with military style rifles --”

That's not true,” Proietto said. “Two percent of mass shootings have been done by assault weapons. Two percent. Look at the statistics.”

The conversation took a slight pivot to address the issue of gun violence by suicide, in order to provide measurable solutions. Raimato was asked what his department does in terms of risk assessment, and what citizens can do to alert the police to a potential suicide.

We call crisis intervention,” he said. “We're the police. We make house calls. If I see anyone younger or older – it doesn't matter – if I see that they need help, it's my job to give them help. Not only is it my job, it's my duty as a human being.”

What can we be doing that we're not, before we get there?” Molly Wood of Heeding God's Call asked Raimato. “The gun there isn't doing anything until it gets into the hands of someone who goes to a school and begins shooting people. What do we do in order to intervene before that scenario plays itself out?”

Raimato addressed the question by speaking about recently arresting a teenage boy.

He asked me, 'What are you going to do?'” he said. “I told him, 'You're under arrest.' The tears began rolling down his cheeks. We need more parents to do what his parents did, which is to call us. I told him that either one of three things are going to happen to him. Number one, that he was going to jail. Number two, that he'll end up dead, and the third is that he will straighten himself out.”

Raimato told the audience that he intends to see the teenager in the coming days.

It's not my job as a cop,” he said. “It's my job as a human being.”

Raimato encouraged people to reach out to the proper authorities. “If you see something, don't put it in Facebook,” he said. “Don't put it on the message board. Call 911. You not talking to your neighbors becomes a burglar's best friend.

We need to work as a community,” Raimato added. “Do you want to know the answer to stopping crime? It’s the community within the community, and looking out for each other.”

At the conclusion of the meeting, pockets of conversation continued between those who agreed – and disagreed -- on the many issues.

Honestly, I thought it was going to be a liberal bash fest of gun owners and the Second Amendment,” Proietto said. “I wanted to listen, and if I had something I felt I needed to say, I was going to put it out there. If I am open about my opinions, I begin to enlighten people to my side of the story.”

Too often, we live in our separate silos,” said Molly Wood of Heeding God's Call. “People have their own views but don't talk to those with other views. It's easy to say 'those crazy liberals' or 'those crazy NRA people.' We're all labeling, but name-calling and labeling doesn't lead us to conversations and then to answers.

The idea is to bring those people who are gun owners and non-gun owners and find some common ground, to have conversations to figure out what we need to do. Whether it’s a comfortable thing for a gun owner to accept or not, there are truly young people who are afraid to go to school. It's important for him or her to say, 'I don't want kids to be afraid, so I need to be a part of a conversation that doesn't label people as snowflakes, but as people who are genuinely afraid.'”

Theresa Zunino, a former behavior specialist and therapist, was drawn to the seminar because she was concerned about gun laws and their loopholes that allow guns to get into the hands of people with mental illnesses.

I felt like I really know what happens in our community when it comes to guns,” she said. “I know that our police are there all the time, but to hear it from Officer Raimato means a lot to me. I think Mario did a great job in sticking with the facts. It's his job to give us the information, and he did his job.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email rgaw@chestercounty.com.


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