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PA Bill Number: SB290

Title: In terms and courses of study, providing for moment of silence on September 11 anniversary.

Description: In terms and courses of study, providing for moment of silence on September 11 anniversary. ...

Last Action: Referred to EDUCATION

Last Action Date: Jan 31, 2023

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Town Hall meeting hosted by U.S. Rep. Dean focuses on gun violence :: 09/07/2019

NORRISTOWN -- The frustration Thursday evening at the George Washington Carver Community Center was palpable.

The subject weighing most heavily on the minds of audience members: gun violence.

“The goal of this Town Hall is to hear from constituents about how gun violence affects their lives — and what changes they would like to see,” said U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-4th District), who organized the Town Hall meeting, sharing the panel seats with Chief of Norristown Police Mark Talbot, Rep. Matt Bradford, D-70th District and Shira Goodman, executive director of nonprofit CeaseFire PA.

“Every day, 310 Americans are shot, and more than 100 are killed,” Dean noted. “Week after week, horrific mass shootings steal the lives of our family members, friends, and neighbors — and traumatize our communities. We don’t have to live like this; we don’t have to surrender to gun violence. In February, Congress passed two important bills to require universal background checks and close the Charleston loophole. Since that time, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has refused to hold a vote on these bills, and our own Senator Toomey has shown little urgency about the matter.”

The ‘loophole” concerned gun dealers having been allowed to sell firearms despite the buyer not completing a background check.

The opposing and unapologetically vocal ideologies concerning gun ownership were clearly represented all around the room.

There were those who vehemently advocated for gun rights and decreasing regulations, and there were those pressing for more regulations related to ownership of firearms.

As Dean’s director of communications Matt Bieber went around the room shifting the microphone from one member of the crowd wishing to express an opinion or ask a question to another, Dean attempted to maintain a semblance of propriety, advising those who began shouting instead of waiting for their turn that their shouts were wasted as they couldn’t be understood by anyone.

“I hope it will be a respectful conversation, because we’re not going to agree on everything,” Dean said. “But there’s value in having a conversation about a problem that faces our country and in learning from one another. When I go back to D.C. something I car deeply about is the issue of gun violence. And so what this conversation is about is how does gun violence affect you, how does it affect your personal life, how does it affect your community, and what do you want from your policy makers at the state level, at the local level, at the federal level or from law enforcement.”

In his introductory speech, Talbot said that Americans sometimes forget that gun violence is as American as apple pie.

“We’ve delegated much of the gun violence to certain neighborhoods,” he said. “Part of the challenge is to pay attention to what is actually happening in this country. I guarantee you that what seems to be the routine active shooter gets a whole lot of airtime, which it should. But last weekend in Chicago or Detroit or even in Philadelphia there were numbers that exceeded those mass shootings over and over again. The vast majority of the gun violence is localized in urban America. This is a problem that is concentrated in certain parts of communities. We’re delegating the problems there and then we’re not doing what we need to do to fix these problems.

“There are a lot of people who are dissatisfied with how we (police) treat some members of the community,” Talbot added. “I think what some people miss, and part of the reason I’m so grateful to be here, is the police weren’t given any additional tools in some of these communities other than a gun, a badge and handcuffs. What do you want us to do? If you wanted your kids counseled, why did you send the police? We had a choice in the ‘60s when crime started getting pretty (bad), we could have enhanced education. We decided we wanted the police, we wanted prison, we wanted prosecution, we wanted parole. And now we’re confused as to why that continues to generate gun violence.”

Talbot pointed out that violence never comes first.

“When you fail to protect significant numbers of people, sooner or later some of those people are going to strike back, they’re going to become violent themselves. This is a problem we, as a society ... we’ve allowed victimization, which reliably will lead to criminal (offense) at some point. I’ve never met a bad baby. You’re not born bad, you’re born a baby. And some of us get victimized along the way and we’ve evolved to the point where now I’m going to pick up a handgun and I’m going to exercise my anger through this weapon in my hand. And we’ve created the perfect opportunity for this to play out. This should not be something we are fighting against each other about,” he added. I think it’s clear what we (have to do.) We have to have police departments that are legitimate and respected by the community. We have to recognize that there are a small number of people that will shoot and kill you. We have to recognize that some people need to be removed from the neighborhood and separated from the rest of us, and everybody else, other than that small percentage of people, needs an opportunity for a good life.”

Bradford acknowledged the disparity in the gun politics of the Montgomery County residents he represents.

“I represent a lot of gun owners, a lot of sportsmen, a lot of people who feel that (gun ownership) is a constitutional right, but I also represent a community that sees the show grind of gun violence. Gun violence is a scourge, which is uniquely American.”

Bradford’s next comments drew a round of applause.

“It’s simply unacceptable to say that because we cannot stop every gun (crime) that we should do nothing, throw our hands up in the air and continue to act like this is normal.”

Audience member Deanna Romeo of Jenkintown elicited applause from the crowd as well when she stood up and pointed out that everyone on the panel was in favor of gun control.

“You have no one on your panel who is anti-gun control. Are you ready now to take someone from the audience on your panel so that both sides are represented? This is more of a public relations check box than actually having a conversation.

Dean responded, “I asked you to make your comment. What is your comment as an advocate?”

“So you’re saying no, you won’t take a volunteer to represent the other side?” Romeo asked.

Dean remained firm in her stance.

“We’re here to have a conversation. Please advocate for your position.”

“So I’ll take that as a no,” Romeo said.

As a 36 -year old single woman Romeo said that owning a firearm is a matter of life and death.

“You read stories all the time. Just a few days ago a woman was carjacked by three juveniles,” Romeo said, referring to an incident at King of Prussia Mall. “So I want to know how you’re not taking away my God-given right to defend myself? If I get attacked tomorrow, chances are it’s going to be by a man, a man who is bigger than me and can easily overpower me. My firearm is the only equalizer I have to protect my life, and my family if I have my family with me. I want you to protect my rights, not take them away from me.”

Dean responded, “I’m happy to open this up to law enforcement. Not a thing that I have suggested would take away your rights,” which the crowd applauded. “Read the legislation. You would see that universal background checks would not take away your rights.”

Talbot told Romeo that it seemed like she was pushing back against something she created herself.

“The issues we’re looking at are very precise. There are people who should absolutely not have a firearm. You don’t appear to be one of them ... so far,” he said, which made the audience laugh.

“The foundation of this issue is, I spent my professional life defending the Constitution. Nobody is trying to take that away from you, or anybody else. What we’re talking about is that we can’t delegate this danger in a way that isn’t sensible. We’re fine with securing the rights of people that absolutely should have their guns and deal with them responsibly.”

When some folks in the audience began randomly shouting comments, Dean reminded them, “we’re going to do this respectfully and one person at a time so everybody can hear the conversation. Deanna, if we haven’t persuaded you I hope you will think long and hard that the very thing you just claimed is simply not true.”

A woman was called upon to share her story.

“About 10 years ago my troubled husband ended his life with a bullet. I knew he was struggling and I had no safe way to remove that gun from the home,” she said. “ I had no community support. Right now there is a federal bill and a state bill for extreme risk protection orders hanging in the balance in Harrisburg and Washington because your colleagues don’t have the will to bring it to a vote. What can we do to make that happen so that families like mine are not forced to live a with a tragedy like my daughter and I have.”

Dean mentioned pending “extreme risk legislation” that stated “if you see or know of someone who is in grave danger of harming himself or others you can petition the court for due process to temporarily take away weapons.”

“This is a very common sense piece of legislation. Here’s the hope I have, that we will mark it up and send it to the floor with two other bills this week. That is something that is achievable. It’s common sense,” she said.

Dean recalled a pertinent tragedy that happened years ago, when her sister-in-law was killed by a drunk driver in South Carolina.

“It was a horror for our family. She was engaged at the time and her fiance had a gun. He was out of mind with grief and I didn’t think twice about it, I took his gun home to Pennsylvania,” Dean said. “It’s common sense. when someone is in crisis you might want to figure out a way to get that gun out of their possession for the their safety and the safety of thos around them.”

Dan McMonigle, Safety Director of Lower Providence Rod & Gun Club noted, “We feel very strongly, as firearms owners against crime we want mandatory (fines) ... five years, 10 years, that’s what we’re looking for.”

McMonigle added that he also mans the veterans suicide hotline.

“My condolences to the lady who lost her husband. Under universal background checks she couldn’t have gotten that gun to save her husband. That’s the way the law is written. You can’t hand it to a stranger or a neighbor without a transfer. That’s 100 percent true.”

Dean pointed out that she called for an amendment to a bill that would help remedy that situation, which the audience applauded.

Goodman assured the “gun community” members in the audience that they were not a silent minority without a voice in the debate

“I was asked for a list of people who should be testifying at senate hearings and I listed the NRA ... so to say that we’re all one-sided is just a myth.”

Joseph Abramson of Lower Merion pointed out to the panel that “it’s not necessarily gun violence, it’s violence itself.”

When the discussion turned to private gun sales, Dean noted that “in Pennsylvania, the private sale of a so-called long gun does not require a background check, and that makes all of us less safe.”

To the comment that “the bad guys don’t submit to background checks,” it was pointed out that in a single year in Pennsylvania, 12,000 potential purchasers completed background checks and were denied gun ownership by the state police.

“The state police have been able to help law enforcement by tracking down people who are wanted, who are evading the law. They have been incredibly effective,” Dean said.

Leon Baker of Elizabethtown said that a study revealed that background checks in California have failed.

“People just do not comply. My question is, how are you going enforce universal background checks? There’s no way to enforce that without registering every gun in the nation.”

Talbot responded by saying, “I think it’s important to look at what you’re passionate about. Are you passionate about every human having a gun, are you passionate about saving a life. It seems like you’ve fallen into a trap of making a case that’s not worth (making.) I know the streets of Elizabethtown aren’t suffering from the same issues we’re suffering from in other communities.”

Robert Fleming of Conshohocken, said “If my wife goes outside and she’s attacked, she’s 120 pounds, what is she going to do? I understand why everybody is so angry and they want something done. But at the same time you have to look at, when we have people committing homicides and rape or armed robbery, or something that put somebody else’s life in danger, why are you walking the street? The aim should not at be at the people who don’t do anything but defend themselves, but against the judges.”

Dean said she didn’t think anyone there supported legislation that would prevent Fleming’s wife’s ability to defend herself.

Dean’s closing remarks noted that “my ambition is singular, to save lives.”

Talbot ended by saying he wanted “everybody to have the opportunity to live a life free of violence.”

Following the roughly two-hour session, Rahcel Pacher of Lower Merion reacted to Dean’s question “What are you afraid of?” directed at those opposed to background checks by saying, “I told her afterward what I was afraid of. First, you start with the universal background checks, then we go to registration and then we go to confiscation, which reminds me of Nazi Germany. I’m the daughter of a Holocaust survivor.”

Pacher’s husband, Ze’ve Pacher added, “The Republican party now is what the Democratic party was in the 1950s and 1960s. The Democratic party today is a socialist party.”

Romeo commended Bieber for doing a good job of trying to get both sides heard.

“It was the panel I had a problem with,” she said, calling the event a public relations move on Dean’s part.

“All they did was feed me more lies. For instance, they told me I should have no fear of people taking away my gun and that I was making it up. You can’t tell me that it’s a made up fear and that I’m causing a problem instead of finding a solution when I have presidential candidates telling me that they want to take my gun,” she said. “Anybody who is knowledgeable about the universal background checks, a universal background check is step one. Step two is gun registry and step three is gun confiscation. And if you look back in history you’ll see that takes place all over. That’s exactly what the Nazis did.”