‘We can never let up on this’: Pa. Rep. Lee talks assault weapons ban, gun violence reform
‘We’ve seen that when students mobilize, things change. I think parents need to have the same courage as their students do,’ Lee said
U.S. Rep. Summer Lee, D-12th District, speaks during a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette strike by the union members in front of the UPMC building on Friday February 24, 2023 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/For the Pennsylvania Capital-Star)
U.S. Rep Summer Lee, D-12th District, spoke on the floor of the House of Representatives Wednesday night, imploring Republicans to “stop putting your politics over our children’s lives.”
Her remarks came the same day two Pittsburgh high schools were locked down for active shooter threats that turned out to be part of a larger hoax which included other schools across the state.
Central Catholic and Oakland Catholic high schools in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood received calls mid-morning on Wednesday, prompting the schools and the nearby University of Pittsburgh to go into lockdown until law enforcement had determined there was no threat. But initially, the level of danger wasn’t clear.
And on Tuesday, six people, including three 9-year-olds, were killed in a school shooting in Tennessee.
From Lee’s remarks:
Imagine… you’re a student at Central Catholic. You’ve gone through active shooter drills, and you saw the news on Monday and heard about every school shooting prior, and today, you get a text that a gunman has entered your school.
You’re wondering if you’ll be shot, if your friends will be shot, your classmates, your teammates, your teacher? Can you protect them or should you run? Do you have time to text your parents one last time?
Imagine…you’re a teacher, hysterically crying to the dispatcher a minute after you heard the news. You realize the lock on your door is broken, so you start building barricades with desks and chairs. You ask your students to protect themselves with whatever means possible, from the metal rod in the closet to the acid chemicals in the physics lab.
Imagine… you’re a parent, and you receive that phone call or text. Your heart stops. Your world freezes and your mind starts to race. Can you get to their school in time? Will you ever hug your children again? Will they meet you at the reunification spot?
Active shootings, hoaxes, evacuations, drills.. This is no way for our kids to live.
Lee is a cosponsor of the Assault Weapons Ban of 2023, introduced in the House last month. The bill would make it “unlawful to import, sell, manufacture, transfer, or possess … a semiautomatic assault weapon.”
It’s a revival of sorts of the national assault weapons ban that was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1994. That ban expired in 2004 under former President George W. Bush, after Congress failed to renew it.
Lee spoke to the Capital-Star on Thursday about what she thinks has to happen next to prevent school shootings in the future.
This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Q: There are a lot of politicians who say “don’t politicize this,” that the aftermath of a school shooting isn’t the right time for discussions of gun reform policy. Why do you feel that this is the conversation that needs attention at this moment?
Lee: I think the people who are saying “don’t politicize this” are saying that because they don’t want to be accountable, and they don’t want to have to address the expected outcomes of their political crusade.
But this is a political issue.There were already 13 school shootings this year–that is a political issue. Because there is a political solution to it.
Q: Poll after poll has shown that most Americans support some kind of responsible gun ownership regulation. Why do you think it’s been so difficult to get gun safety legislation passed?
A: Because these politicians don’t bite the hand that feeds them. This money that comes into their campaigns, this money that comes into their lifestyle, right, these are these are the people who they’re going to protect when they go to vote. This is why we have to get money out of politics, but that’s not the only thing here.
As we look at the growing tide of fascism in this country, we have to also ask people: Why are they building up stores of weapons? In a country that we hope to be peaceful, and a country that we hope to be free? And I know it’s hard and it’s uncomfortable, sometimes to think about these things but believe it or not, there was a time in this country where parents didn’t fear [sending] their kids to school.
Q: Do you think this is the moment in time — either politically or just in terms of where everyone is sort of fed up with the way things are — that it’s going to be possible to put an assault weapons ban back into effect?
A: I think that if trends are any indication, why would the Republicans budge right now? The Republican representative from Tennessee, saying basically that there’s nothing else we can do. And that’s that on the steps of the Capitol where he votes on policy, and says that there’s nothing else that we can do while he does nothing at all?
We can never let up on this. Right now, anytime that a Republican tries to change a topic, we need to redirect to what is the matter at hand. We should not allow business as usual right now, and that’s a stance that isn’t isn’t courageous, I think it’s what’s demanded of us.
Q: So what are the concrete things that need to happen here?
A: I think it’s time that we start to get to the root of what’s keeping us away from this sort of legislation. That’s why I always talk about campaign finance reform. It’s why we talk about how much money is flooding into our politics.
Without campaign finance reform we cannot have a reflective democracy. There is a minority that is wielding power in this country as if they were the majority. And they’re able to do that because of gerrymandering. They’re able to do that because of money and campaign finance reform. And those are the two things that we have to address first.
The second thing is that we need to stop legitimizing the Republican Party. There are some things that should be disqualifying. It should be disqualifying to say that there’s nothing that we can do about one of the most pressing issues in American society in the only country on Earth that has this problem, which means that we also know what can be done because we’ve seen what happened in other countries when they’ve had a school shooting. A school shooting. We need to mobilize and organize against that, and we need to delegitimize a party that would say that we will sacrifice kids for guns.
If we don’t like what we see then we need to go and change it. We’ve seen that when students mobilize, things change. I think parents need to have the same courage as their students do.
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