HARRISBURG (KDKA) — With gun violence appearing to escalate, taking so many lives in mass shootings, suicides, and daily gun shootings in many urban neighborhoods, Gov. Tom Wolf signed an executive order to enact what he called “sweeping changes to combat a public health crisis.”
“Too many Pennsylvanians have died from gun violence. Too many have lost loved ones to gun violence. Too many live every day in fear of being shot on the sidewalk, in their neighborhood, in a grocery store, in school, or at a concert,” the governor said in Harrisburg on Friday. “We need to protect all of our lives, everywhere in Pennsylvania.”
Saying the state could not wait on Congress to act, Wolf appointed Charles Ramsey, Crime Commission chair and former Philadelphia Police Commissioner, to coordinate and facilitate gun violence reduction efforts in the state.
The governor’s order creates a new Office of Gun Violence Prevention within the Crime Commission and a Division of Violence Prevention within the State Health Department.
The governor also created a Special Council on Gun Violence that has 180 days to come up with a plan to reduce gun violence.
The focus is to increase oversight and data-sharing about violence, reduce the neighborhood gun violence reported on TV every night, develop ways to combat mass shootings, and curb domestic at-home violence and suicide.
With 1,600 gun deaths a year in this state and guns associated with 74 percent of all homicides and 52 percent of all suicides, Ramsey noted the media focus on the mass shootings is much too narrow.
“The reality is that mass shootings take place every day on the streets of our city across the entire country, one person, two people here, three over there, all life has value,” said the former Philadelphia police commissioner.
Ramsey committed to developing an action plan quickly.
“We can be the model for the rest of the country, and we will be the model for the rest of the country,” pledged Ramsey.
The governor also called on state lawmakers to act.
Specifically, he wants universal background checks for gun purchases in the state, so-called “red flag” laws to take guns out of the hands of certain dangerous individuals, mandatory reporting of lost and stolen guns, and mandatory safe storage of guns to keep them out of the hands of children and suicidal individuals.
“The Second Amendment does not supersede the inalienable right that we all have to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” said Wolf.
Tim Stevens, co-convener of the Black Political Empowerment Project’s Coalition against Violence, hailed the governor’s action for including many of their recommendations.
“I must applaud the governor for taking what is a very comprehensive approach because this is what is going to help us,” Stevens told political editor Jon Delano.
Stevens says the African-American community feels gun violence personally.
“We have far too many shootings, far too many deaths on a one to one basis, not the mass shootings, but the one on one shootings that occur in our African-American community,” Stevens said.
But Kim Stolfer, head of Firearms Owners Against Crime, has a different take on Wolf’s action.
“It’s more political demagoguery and a failure on the part of his administration and himself to face the real issues,” he said.
Stolfer says get tougher on crime; don’t restrict gun owners.
“Eighty to ninety percent of those crimes are career recidivist criminals who had the charges plea-bargained away from them just like the cop-shooter in Philadelphia,” notes Stolfer, “and nobody has done anything about it. The judges aren’t held accountable. The DAs aren’t held accountable.”
But Ramsey pledged the governor quick action.
“I promise we will meet all the deadlines and give you something that is actionable and can really improve the quality of safety and security throughout the commonwealth,” said Ramsey.