Here we are again.
Last week's shooting of four people in Philadelphia is too familiar. It occurred across the street from my office in Mount Airy, outside the popular neighborhood restaurant and bar where I announced my bid for state representative. It is half a block from where I gave a public statement in April after having been on the scene of a brutal murder. The victim was an energetic young man I spoke to just moments prior to his death on the corner of Temple and Vernon Roads.
My young sons were supposed to have been with me that day. And here we are again.
I dread telling them about yet another shooting given the trauma they have already suffered knowing what I went through and the relentless anxiety they face growing up in a society awash in guns, inequality, and toxic — often deadly — ideas about what it means to be a man.
Every year, 33,000 Americans die from gun violence. An additional 80,000 are wounded, and a far greater number of people like me are traumatized for life.
Simply put, we cannot fight fire with fire anymore. Rather than fanning flames, we should be extinguishing them.
The raging fire of gun violence must be doused with the purifying water of compassion and support for the women, children, and men senselessly gunned down every day and for those living victims bearing the psychological wounds of this terror — a terror from within that is more real and pervasive than those we fear from abroad.
The solution does not mean a gun-free America. It doesn’t mean an end to hunting and shooting sports.
My people come from Mississippi and Kentucky. Guns are part of Southern and rural cultures. And many proponents of nonviolent direct action during the Civil Rights Movement — including the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself — owned guns and grew up knowing how to use them responsibly.
The issue is not about eliminating guns. This is about owning up to the simple fact that too many people are dying or being shot or traumatized by gun violence. This is about demanding sensible, evidence-based solutions to this crisis.
There are desperate and traumatized people who need genuine help, not more ammunition.
We must commit to ending the daily slaughter of innocents across Pennsylvania. Gun violence must be addressed as the multifaceted public health crisis it truly is. This is not a debate on the Second Amendment. As long as guns are safely used, maintained, and stored by law-abiding citizens, I will do my level best to accept that America is home to more guns than Americans.
I am disheartened but not surprised when I see legislation that promotes arming public school personnel over, say, more funding for teachers, books, buildings, nurses, or the counselors who are needed to console students who have lost loved ones to gun violence. Such legislation makes me more determined. Any lawmaker who has listened to the collective wisdom of my beloved fourth graders at Emlen School, or to the students in the Philadelphia School District, would understand that the misuse of guns has a much greater detrimental impact on learning than the intellectual deficits falsely attributed to our entire community.
Our communities are awash in trauma from lethal weapons and we must fix that.
In addition to carrying guns and gang associations, abusing alcohol is closely linked to violence. State lawmakers must ensure that guns are kept out of the hands of those who would misuse them — especially criminals, those with a history of domestic violence, and those under the influence — and away from venues where the presence of guns interferes with the mission of public institutions or the role of the police to protect and serve.
Sensible, humane gun reforms must be adopted to address this public health crisis. One such reform is legislation I am introducing shortly (previously House Bill 2378) that would make it illegal to carry a firearm while intoxicated. This is already the law in at least 30 states. In addition to such measures, we must also reduce gun violence by providing mentoring and therapy for at-risk populations.
We must build a commonwealth where the collective wealth is measured by how well we embrace and support our most vulnerable communities. Urban, suburban, or rural, we live in one commonwealth. And for those of us who are true public servants elected to represent all Pennsylvanians, we must ask ourselves: Where do we want to end up together? My hope is that the answer means we can finally stop repeating this tragic refrain: Here we are again.