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Chester County Press

Kennett Square takes aim at gun violence

03/06/2018 01:19PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Kennett Square Borough Council discussed a resolution urging state and federal lawmakers to enact stronger protections against gun violence at its meeting on Monday, March 5.

The resolution, which was unanimously approved by borough council, stated, “...Borough Council and the Mayor of the Borough of Kennett Square recognize the Second Amendment and the rights therein, such as the right to individual gun ownership and the right to self-defense, they also recognize that said rights are not unlimited and support reasonable measures to ensure greater safety in the ownership, procurement, and use of guns in our society...”

The resolution noted that 114,994 people are shot and 33,880 people die each year, on average, from gun violence. These figures include murders, assaults, suicides, suicide attempts, and mass shootings like the recent one at a school in Parkland, Florida.

Borough officials anticipated a strong reaction to the resolution from the community, opting to move the meeting to a larger site, the Kennett/Pennsbury Room in the lower level of the Genesis Healthcare building on State Street. Approximately three dozen people turned out for the meeting. While several people in attendance did voice their opposition to the resolution, several others spoke in favor of it. When borough council approved the resolution, about half the people in the room applauded.

The resolution calls for state lawmakers and federal officials to enact laws that accomplish the following:

~ Preventing known and suspected terrorists, those convicted of violent hate crimes, and those with a history of domestic abuse from buying guns;

~ Funding research into the effects of gun violence and gun safety technology;

~ Requiring trigger locks on guns in all homes where children are present;

~ Banning access to assault-style weapons;

~ Reducing the number of permissible cartridges in a clip or a magazine;

~ Restricting ownership of firearms by the mentally ill;

~ Ensuring that background checks are required on all sales, including online sales and at gun shows:

~ Preserving the provisions of the Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS), which provides instant access to background records.

Council member Wayne Braffman talked about how he felt it was important to pass a resolution that calls for strengthening protections against gun violence. He saw another borough council in Chester County adopt a resolution so he took the lead in drafting a resolution for Kennett Square.

“Obviously, I feel very strongly about this,” Braffman said. “Thoughts and prayers will not bring back the Parkland students who were killed. Thoughts and prayers will not protect the children at Mary D. Lang. We need to do something. This resolution is an attempt to try. I couldn't live with myself if we didn't try.”

Braffman noted that Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick wanted to sign on and make it a joint resolution because he also feels very strongly that strengthening protections against gun violence will ultimately lead to safer communities.

“My role (as mayor) is public safety,” Fetick said. “The police chief reports to me directly. Every time there is a mass casualty incident, my heart sinks.”

Fetick said these tragic incidents always leave him thinking about what can be done proactively to keep such a tragedy from happening in Kennett Square.

Kennett Consolidated School District schools have a school resource officer—a trained police officer—to provide security. Fetick pledged that that would continue, no matter what, for as long as he is the mayor.

He went through the resolution point by point, and said that he believed that what was being called for—preventing known and suspected terrorists and violent criminals from owning guns and restricting ownership of firearms by the mentally ill and ensuring that background checks are required on all gun sales—are all reasonable steps.

The mayor noted that the resolution recognizes that people have the Second Amendment right to bear arms. Fetick said that there has to be meaningful discussions about regulations for assault-style weapons, which were not a concern back in 1791 when the Second Amendment was adopted.

“I can't see where this is taking away anybody's Second Amendment rights. There's nothing in here that will keep qualified people from owning guns,” Fetick said. “I think we can agree on these eight points.”

During public comment, residents spoke for and against the resolution.

Kennett Square Borough resident Aline Frank, a Kennett Consolidated School District school board member, said that she was happy to see the resolution on the council's agenda. She talked about the school resource officer, and how important the position was to the mission of having safe schools.

Jessica Casson, a borough resident, said that she did not want to comment specifically about gun control, but she had concerns that borough council might be overstepping its bounds by putting forward a resolution like the one under consideration. As a local governing body, she said, borough council does not need to take a stance on the highly debated topic. Casson questioned whether borough council had the authority to speak on behalf of its residents on a topic like gun control, particularly since the borough had not sought widespread feedback from residents before introducing the resolution.

Braffman later specifically addressed the concern about whether borough council should be taking positions on issues that are controlled by state or federal lawmakers, saying that they have voted on a number of different resolutions for the purpose of letting lawmakers know how they feel about a subject.

“There's a reason asking them to take action,” Braffman said, noting that state lawmakers have previously passed legislation that prevents municipalities from adopting restrictive gun regulations.

John Thomas said that he might agree with almost everything in the resolution, but he does not agree that the borough council should be speaking for residents.

“The problem is bigger than an anti-gun proclamation,” Thompson said, explaining that there are issues related to how people with mental illnesses are treated. Law enforcement agencies must also do a better job of communicating with each other about people who are threats to public safety, Thomas said.

Ron Turner, a resident, said that he supported the resolution. He moved to the borough in 1976, not long after two Kennett Square Borough police officers had been shot and killed by an armed assailant.

When the vote was taken, borough council members were unanimous in their support for approving the resolution. Kennett Square Borough's resolution will be distributed to numerous elected officials, ranging from the Chester County Commissioners to state senators and state representatives to U.S. senators and congressmen so that they are made aware of the support for the Pennsylvania General Assembly and the U.S. Congress to enact laws to reduce gun violence.

To contact Staff Writer Steven Hoffman, email [email protected]