HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) — Thursday, hundreds of gun safety advocates joined CeaseFirePA to rally outside the Pennsylvania Capitol for what they call “sensible gun laws.” Some even traveled 300 miles to make their voices heard.
“It’s time for an emergency response before the next kid dies. This young man here, seven-years-old, and we went back to life like business as usual. Not anymore,” said Daryl Craig, known locally as “Brother D,” as he held a shirt with the picture of seven-year-old Antonio Yarger Jr., a victim of gun violence in Erie last year.
Craig, and other advocates with Erie Blue Coats, like Kevin Stevenson, traveled all the way from Erie to fight for safer communities and remember the lives lost to gun violence, including Yarger.
“We promised their family that we would keep him alive in every push, every effort,” said Craig. “They called him ESPN, and he was murdered just walking down the street on his way to his house, just trying to go home for dinner that night. If it’s not a wake up call, something’s wrong,” he added.
“It is so senseless,” said Stevenson, who buried his nephew two years ago as the result of gun violence. “It’s impacted each and every Blue Coat that is standing here today,” he added.
With gun violence as the number one cause of death for children, many say reform is overdue.
“Sensible gun laws work, and every death that happens is preventable,” said Dr. Meena Bewtra with the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Doctors for America.
Dr. Bewtra said when she was in training, treating a gunshot wound was not as common as it is today.
“A gunshot wound would be something everybody knew about in the hospital. Now, it’s multiple times a day, it’s too much. Unfortunately, it’s getting worse and worse,” said Bewtra.
Advocates want to see laws for safe storage requirements, enhanced background checks, extreme risk protection and others. But Republicans want to see the current laws enforced before creating new ones.
“Criminals are not going to just start following the law because you put new gun laws on the books,” said Jason Gottesman, spokesperson for the House Republican Caucus. “House Republicans believe that every Pennsylvanian deserves to live in safe neighborhoods. That is why we have taken great steps in making sure that our gun background check system is one of the best in the country. That’s why we have invested in mental health resources and our police and prosecutors, so that we can take a proactive approach to ensuring we have safe communities,” he added.
Gottesman says local prosecutors in larger cities, where gun violence has left a devastating impact, need to step up and ditch the “soft on crime” approach.
“You have political prosecutors in our major cities who are not taking our already-tough on crime law seriously,” said Gottesman.
Advocates say children are more at risk every day that goes by without some type of action.
“Everyone of us should be losing our mind every time something like this happens and before the next one happens. Children are the responsibility of every adult in the world because we shape and mold the world that they’re born into,” said Craig.
With a House majority, Democrats are optimistic about passing “sensible gun laws” this session. However, with a Republican-controlled Senate, the bills face a tough road before they can reach the governor’s desk for a signature.