By Shira Goodman
As Maya Angelou famously said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
This past week in Harrisburg, we got a real good look at the people who are trying to block the efforts to solve Pennsylvania’s gun violence crisis. And now that we know where they stand, we know what we have to do.
First, House Judiciary Chair Rob Kauffman, R-Franklin, made himself absolutely clear in comments following a meeting in which the committee voted to: allow gun lobby groups and gun owners to sue Pennsylvania cities; impose more mandatory minimum sentences; allow more people to drive around with guns in their cars; and permit the civilian use of tasers.
Kauffman said other proposed gun laws including background check expansion, safe storage and Extreme Risk Protection Orders might will not receive a vote this session. In fact, he said “We will not be considering red flag in the house judiciary committee. .. So long as Chairman Kauffman is chairman.'”
Some considered Kauffman’s statements — especially his claim that the committee’s actions would make us safer — a source of anger and frustration.
To me, Kauffman’s words were fighting words, not the final word.
He just gave us his roadmap for the next year and half of session, and now we know exactly where our efforts need to be focused. Every Pennsylvanian needs to hear what he said, and we will be making clear to him that we believe this “promise” is a dereliction of duty and an abdication of his role as chairman.
While this was happening over at the House, the Senate Judiciary Committee was holding two days of hearings on “behavioral health, the second amendment, and other gun policy issues.”
What we saw and heard from many of the witnesses who testified, and the supporters they brought with them, was shameful.
We were told that our gun violence problem is due to violent video games, the breakdown of the family, Hollywood, the media, the use of various prescription drugs, and — despite every mental health professional who testified explaining that mental illness does not cause violence — mental illness.
We heard from some members of the committee that the hearings were a waste of time and that attention should instead be focused on opioids and other issues.
And we saw groups of men surround and try to shout down survivors who were talking about how their families and communities have lost loved ones to gun violence — suicide, homicide and mass shootings.
Clearly, there is tremendous fear and concern that the voices calling for stronger gun laws are being heard throughout this Commonwealth. And the people who don’t want to see any changes are very worried.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairwoman Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, announced these hearings in August, she said they would be “a prelude to action.”
There are people — members of the Senate, the House, and the public, who don’t want to see that action. And so, they are doing all they can to block it.
But as poll after poll makes clear — more people want action and votes than don’t. We know what we’re up against, and we have a plan.
We have two goals: get bills moving in the House despite Chairman Kauffman, and get Chairwoman Baker to hold votes on good bills that are sitting in her committee. Tall orders, but we’re up to the task. The people of Pennsylvania want action, and it is their right to demand that of their elected officials.
Fighting words were issued, but it is the people that get the final word.
After all, 2020 is an election year.
Shira Goodman is the executive director of CeaseFire Pennsylvania, the advocacy arm of CeaseFirePA, a Philadelphia-based group whose mission is to end the epidemic of gun violence across the Commonwealth and the country through education, coalition-building and advocacy.