By Ben Sanchez
A grocery store in the college town of Boulder, Colorado, at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Various massage parlors in the southern metropolis of Atlanta, Georgia, the most populous capital city in the U.S.
A home in Phoenix, Arizona, where a family situation took a deadly turn. A home in Indianapolis, Indiana, where another interpersonal dispute turned tragic. An apartment complex in Houston, Texas, where an argument preceded an unprovoked shooting.
I won’t keep going; though, unfortunately, I could. Some of these incidents grabbed almost immediate national attention. Others remain hyper-localized.
However, it’s what they have in common that prompted this editorial: Multiple victims killed by gun violence. All in the United States. All within the last two weeks. All heaped upon a record year of slaughter in Philadelphia and other cities, which are already known for an outrageous amount of daily gun homicides.
Now that the horror of multiple mass shootings has heartbreakingly – and, sadly, inevitably – returned to the forefront of American consciousness after a year of the COVID-19 pandemic dominating headlines, let the discussion not be sidetracked by lobbyist-fueled lies, purposeful exaggerations and predictable scare tactics.
If you worry that tragedy is being politicized, well, it is. It always seems to be political. But it doesn’t have to be.
The arguments are weaponized precisely to stop the type of productive, nonpartisan conversations we should be capable of having at exactly these moments.
To be a lawful, responsible gun owner does not mean carrying allegiance to any political party. It means caring about your community. It means wanting to keep your children, family and neighbors safe.
In the Pennsylvania Legislature, my party, the Democrats, has been in the minority for more than a decade, meaning it’s sometimes difficult for Democrats to pass the type of legislation we feel is best for the people of this commonwealth, not because those proposals ARE partisan, but because they are MADE partisan.
Nowhere is that more evident than commonsense gun safety legislation. Note the terms “gun safety” and “commonsense,” and not “gun elimination” or “gun abolishment.”
Let me be clear: Responsibility does not equal abolishing the Second Amendment. I do not want the government to take your guns. I do not want law-abiding, licensed gun owners in this country to lose their Constitutional right to bear arms.
That exaggerated lie always rears its ugly head in the aftermath of tragedy. I cannot speak for all my colleagues, but I say unquestionably that the overwhelming majority of them feel similarly.
There might be some out there who imagine a world without guns, but that’s not recognizing the modern reality or the history of this country.
What I do imagine – and what I hope to see in my time as a legislator – are laws that work to protect more people, laws that appropriately punish those who traffic guns illegally, laws that considerably reduce the likelihood of significant violence caused by a person experiencing mental illness who is able to gain possession of a weapon capable of rapid-fire mass murder.
Bills are regularly introduced in our General Assembly with just those purposes in mind, including three of my own. If this is not the time to see them pass with bipartisan support, when is?
Just last week, with my friend and colleague, Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, I officially introduced legislation addressing reporting of lost or stolen firearms. A second bill, co-sponsored by Rep. Liz Hanbidge, D-Montgomery, bans multi-burst trigger activators. And I plan to introduce a third bill, co-sponsored by Rep Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, that would establish a a 72-hour waiting period for all firearm transfers.
None comes close to fitting the description of some outrageous “they’re coming for our guns!” claim.
By all reasonable accounts, these bills – and the many others introduced by several of my colleagues – are commonsense pieces of legislation with one goal: to make our communities safer.
Because what we’ve seen in the news this week, last week and countless weeks, months and years prior – the chaos, pain, shock and heartbreak of mass murder – shouldn’t be what defines our country.
We need to be better than this. We need to protect Americans who want to go grocery shopping, get a massage, visit family, go to school, watch a movie or hang out with some friends without needing to worry about the threat of deadly violence.
Conversation is crucial. In Pennsylvania, that means the majority party that controls both the House and Senate chambers needs to allow that conversation and, if the case calls for it, put the people that elected them before their party.
Let’s open up debate. Let’s do the hard work we’ve been elected to do. What will it take to finally take this type of legislation seriously? How many people need to die?
State Rep. Ben Sanchez, a Democrat, represents the Montgomery County-based 153rd House District. He writes from Harrisburg.