‘It leaves a hole in my heart’: This mom and activist is calling for common sense gun control. Will Harrisburg listen?

Orange-clad advocates rally in the Capitol Rotunda during a Gun Violence Awareness Day event (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

Shanna Danielson has a five-year-old who’s about to start kindergarten. He’ll learn a bunch of stuff when he starts school this fall. The alphabet. His numbers. Probably some songs and music.

And he’ll learn how to hide from a madman with a gun. Because that’s what it’s like to be a schoolkid in America now.

As if navigating the hallways, finding the water fountain, and getting to know your new teachers wasn’t enough. As if learning the rules of the playground and how to learn wasn’t enough. Now we’re teaching five-year-olds what to do if some twisted psycho decides to spray a classroom with gunfire.

Like Sandy Hook. Like Parkland. Like Columbine. Like STEM Highlands Ranch.

Don’t think it can happen in Pennsylvania? Don’t try telling that to Danielson, of Dillsburg, York County, who’s going to be like every other parent who packs their kid off to school in the morning, the aluminum taste of fear lingering in the back of their mouth, as they watch their child get on the bus, or disappear around the corner, hoping and expecting that they’ll be home safe later in the day.

Except Danielson is also a teacher. And she’s been through those drills herself. So she does what she can.

On Wednesday, she put on an orange shirt, the color that hunters use to stay safe in the woods, and as a representative of the activist group Moms Demand Action, she stood up with allies and friends in the state Capitol rotunda. And she rightfully demanded that her elected representatives take action to ensure that America’s abusive relationship with firearms doesn’t unspool in some Pennsylvania classroom.

State Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell speaks at a rally during Gun Violence Awareness Day on Wednesday, June 5, 2019 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

I’ve been through these drills as an educator. A district I taught in had an active shooter training for teachers on an in-service day,” Danielson said. “Law enforcement fired blanks in the hallway, and we were told to hide and call 911. The phone lines were jammed, the door handles were rattled, and teachers were mentally scarred. This is not normal.”

And the thought that her son will have to endure a similar exercise from ages five to 18 “leaves a hole in my heart,” she said.

Yes, there were elected officials at the rally. Gov. Tom Wolf was there. Sen. Art Haywood, a Philadelphia Democrat who’s one of the leading legislative voices on gun control, was there. So was freshman Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, of Philadelphia, whose son was gunned down in Philadelphia in 2011 in a case of mistaken identity. And Rep. Jennifer O’Mara, D-Delaware, another freshman whose father took his own life with a handgun, and who had to wait all of two months into her term before an incident of gun violence rocked her district. She was there too.

They already agreed with Danielson that something had to be done. They agreed in the most strenuous possible terms.

“I have no problem with the Second Amendment,” Johnson-Harrell said. “I’m licensed to carry. My problem is with the Constitution — every child has the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

It was a great message — so was Johnson-Harrell’s call for Democrats and Republicans in the 253-member General Assembly to “get on the same page” to find a solution, one she’s certain exists.

But Wednesday provided a vivid reminder that not only are some in the Capitol not on the same page, they’re not even reading the same book.

Earlier in the day, the Republican-controlled House put the brakes on a non-binding resolution that would have declared this Friday, June 7, “Gun Violence Awareness Day” in Pennsylvania. The resolution didn’t call for a change in law. It didn’t try to take anyone’s guns away. All it did was ask the House to take a moment to remember the victims and survivors of gun violence. There are 100 of them a day.

The Republican-controlled Senate managed to pass the resolution just fine. But an unidentified lawmaker in the state House raised an objection, so the resolution sponsored by Rep. Todd Stephens, of Montgomery County — one of the voices of GOP sanity on gun control — was promptly exiled to committee.

“The House passes resolutions all the time,” Shira Goodman of the pro-gun control group CeaseFire PA fumed after the rally. “That they couldn’t honor the victims and survivors is shameful.”

But it isn’t particularly surprising, given the fact that most lawmakers fold like cheap suits in the face of pressure from the NRA.

Pennsylvania’s first new gun law in 14 years took effect April. It requires gun owners who are subject to a final protection from abuse order, or who have a misdemeanor conviction for domestic violence, to surrender their firearms to law enforcement within 24 hours. And they can no longer hand them off to family or friends, which believe it or not used to be the case.

Yes, it took 14 years to get that increment of an increment into law.

Other bills like expanded background checks, an assault weapons ban, and proposals requiring people to report lost and stolen weapons to law enforcement have withered on the vine and never come to a vote. A Stephens-backed bill creating what are known as “extreme risk protection orders” that could keep guns out of the hands of potential suicide victims is running into opposition as well.

The mostly Republican lawmakers who have blocked action on those bills, and who buried Stephens’ resolution in committee, should have been in the rotunda on Wednesday to hear the stories from Harrell-Johnson and O’Mara — to look a taxpayer like Danielson in the eye, and then explain their inaction.

But they weren’t. It’s a fact that, like everything else to do with our eternal argument over guns, is neither shocking nor surprising.

And this fall a five-year-old will go off to school for the first time and be taught how to avoid a madman with a gun.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.

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