Six months after the Newtown Square, Conn. massacre, local residents ask for action
By Nicole Brown, Staff Writer, The Times
WEST CHESTER — Six months after the fatal shooting in Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, around 60 people gathered at the old courthouse steps at a “We Stand With Newtown” rally to show their support for universal background checks for gun purchase legislation, Friday.
This rally is one of many that occurred Friday across the country. Pennsylvania is among ten states participating, and within the state, Allentown, Mt. Lebanon, and Wormleysburg also had rallies.
Organized by the Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG) organization and gun law advocacy groups in each community, the rallies were held to encourage people to speak with their state and federal representatives about gun laws.
MAIG spokesperson Kate Downen explained that the organization hopes people will motivate state senators to reconsider their votes against background checks and urge representatives to support the bi-partisan background check legislation in the House of Representatives.
“In Pennsylvania, 88 percent of voters support background checks, so these events are being held to urge elected officials to stand with the people of their state and do what’s right for the safety of PA families and communities,” Downen said.
The rally in West Chester was largely organized by the Chester County chapter of the Organizing For Action (OFA) campaign, as well as the West Chester Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence (WCCPGV).
OFA volunteer Vicki Damiani welcomed the people at the rally and introduced all the speakers.
The speakers included Cassandra Jones, vice president of West Chester Borough Council and gun violence survivor; Tom Buglio, director of the WCCPGV; Starr Cummin Bright, a Chester County native and gun violence survivor; and Orla Treacy, a representative of CeaseFirePA, a coalition of advocates and survivors against gun violence and illegal gun trafficking.
Jones emphasized her belief that congress needs to recognize the over 90 percent of Americans who support background checks, instead of the minority percentage of people who are concerned with their second amendment rights. She added that background check advocates are not against the right to own firearms. They are simple concerned with the safety of the nation, specifically the children.
“I’ve realized that America’s obsession with guns has really produced a river of blood that washes over the streets of our nation,” Jones said. “Sadly, this river flows mainly from the bodies of our own children.”
Buglio spoke of what he sees as a trend after tragic events, including the Columbine school shooting, Nickel Mines school shooting, and shooting of congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, which is that people, including many politicians, forget about them and fail to recognize the need for gun violence prevention legislation.
“The prevailing wisdom was that gun safety was a losing issue at the ballot box, despite the fact that 30,000 Americans were losing their lives to gun violence every year,” he said. “Sandy Hook, finally, shook up our nation enough to put the problem of gun violence in the national spotlight.”
Bright shared her story about being shot in a meeting held at a church by a man she had never directly spoken to and dealing with the physical and mental trauma afterward. She also spoke of the fear that drives people to buy guns, but noted that gun owners have a higher risk of being tragically affected by gun violence.
“My request is instead of taking a fear-based stance to arm ourselves, that we consider the damage a bullet can do,” she said.
Treacy reminded everyone that background checks can save lives and the only people who have something to fear from background checks are criminals who should not own firearms in the first place.
She, along with the other speakers, encouraged everyone to write to or call Congressman Jim Gerlach to show support for more federal gun laws.
“Background checks and this movement aren’t going away,” Treacy said. “We’re not going away.”
Among the attendees at the rally were five students from the Lincoln University of Pennsylvania.
One of the students Liani Smith said that she and the other students want to bring more awareness to their university and are planning to start a chapter of the OFA at their campus.
“We want to get this action that we see here today back to where we live,” Smith said.