by Rep. Kristine Howard (D-167), 8/8/19
I have thought for many days about what to say about the latest incidents of mass shootings. I have expressed my sadness in a previous social media post about a prior incident. Saying the same thing again seemed as pointless as thoughts and prayers. This is a complex topic, with different causes requiring different solutions. There are mental health issues, hatred, racism, horrific gun accidents involving children and the tragedy of suicide. There are shootings related to gang violence and domestic violence. Public records inform us that 600 women annually in America are shot to death by their partner.
Having children changes the way we think about many things. Since Columbine, my children have practiced “active shooter drills”. In the past, I worried but still considered the risk low. These incidents happened but rarely, and you could not worry so much that you could not live your life. That was before Sandy Hook. The year after Sandy Hook I attended a remembrance on the steps of the old courthouse in West Chester. We were all hopeful then that this would be the event that changed everything. Sad to say, it did not. When the Virginia Tech shooting happened, my oldest son was a senior in high school. I was waiting with him at a doctor’s appointment when we saw the news of the shooting. We knew people who attended that college. I remember feeling a sickening wave of emotion knowing in a few short months my son would be in college.
My children are grown now and out in the world. I am always worried about their safety. They go to concerts, movies and malls. They attend high school and college. They work. They travel. When I was growing up, I never worried that I could be the victim of a random shooting. My parents took me to Europe when I was in middle school in 1974 and there were several bombings in England when we were there. I remember thinking “I can’t wait to get home; this doesn’t happen where we live.” The safety I felt in my youth has vanished, replaced by a nagging anxiety.
And it is not just the “mass shootings”, however they are defined, that cause my concern. I am very aware that there is a daily slaughter happening that doesn’t always make the news. And perhaps I am more anxious than others due to the intimate knowledge I have gained about the needless death and suffering our gun culture breeds because of my father’s experiences as a probation officer, my work as a child abuse investigator and my daughter’s service as a Philadelphia paramedic.
When I started work at Children Youth and Families, we had hours of training. One nugget of safety advice stayed with me: “Remember, this is Pennsylvania and you must assume that every house you go into may have a gun in it.” As an investigator, I did not always see what everybody thinks of as child abuse, but I saw plenty of mental health issues, substance abuse, poverty and desperation – conditions that don’t mix well with guns. People often did not like to answer the questions I was required to ask about whether they had a gun in the house and if it was properly secured so as not to present a danger to their children. More often than not, they would cite their Constitutional right to own a gun or angrily tell me it was none of my business.
We have more guns than people in this country. I understand that there are rights, but do we want a gun culture that makes us feel as though we are living in a time of terrorism? I believe the best solution to our current predicament is a comprehensive overhaul of our gun laws enacting common sense reforms supported by clear majorities in our state and country. Nevertheless, it is unlikely this is going to happen any time soon. So, what do we do in the meantime?
There are several commonsense pieces of gun reform legislation being held hostage in Harrisburg by NRA-backed legislators. However, In the wake of recent gun tragedies, it appears there is growing support for at least two reforms I strongly support. Either in special session or as soon as we return in September, we need to immediately pass laws requiring universal background checks and implementing a “Red Flag” law giving family members and others the power to ask the courts to remove guns from people who may be a danger to themselves and others.
We must seize the day and immediately make the incremental changes that are within our reach. The fight to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines will continue and perhaps one day, we will once again leave our homes without anxiety.