In the face of legislative inaction on gun control, Democrats in the state Senate have asked Gov. Tom Wolf for a statewide disaster declaration on gun violence.
“We believe it is necessary to raise the public’s awareness of the massive loss of human life and the suffering inflicted on affected family, friends and neighbors where this tragedy is unfolding daily,” the letter, led by Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, D-Allegheny, reads. “Just as you have signed six disaster declarations to provide every tool at the Commonwealth’s disposal to combat the opioid epidemic, the death toll and impact from illegal guns should merit immediate and coordinated attention.”
In their letter, Democrats say a disaster declaration would allow Wolf to:
- “Establish a task force led by the Department of Health to create and implement a public health framework for addressing gun violence
- “Establish a command center in the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency to coordinate state and local law enforcement response
- “Enhance the Joint-Local State Firearm Task force through additional personnel and funding to take illegal guns off the street
- “Expand information gathering and sharing between all levels of law enforcement and community groups
- “Increase law enforcement presence, both local and state, in targeted areas where gun violence is most prevalent
- “Expedite and expand grants and other funding sources for community groups and nonprofit associations with a proven record of violence reduction and prevention
- “Provide additional state resources for behavioral and mental health
- “Bringing to bear the significant wealth of knowledge and experience in the Departments of Health and Human Services to provide de-escalation and de-confliction training throughout the community
- ” … [and] require the Pennsylvania Department of Education provide training and professional development on trauma-informed education.”
Wolf, a Democrat, has repeatedly pushed for lawmakers to take up what he has described as “common sense” measures aimed at curbing gun violence.
Among them is a “red flag” measure which would allow family members and law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily restrict a person’s ability to purchase or possess firearms, as long as the petitioner can prove the person poses a danger to himself or others.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has called on lawmakers to meet in special session to take up gun violence remedies following a mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Like Republicans who control the Pennsylvania General Assembly, Republicans in Virginia have shown little inclination to take up reform measures, the Virginia Mercury, a sister publication of the Capital-Star, reported earlier this month.
A Wolf spokesperson could not immediately be reached for comment on the Democrats’ disaster request.
Read the full text of the letter below: