Q&A: Tom Buglio of Chesco Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence

Today is National Gun Violence Awareness Day

By Nathaniel Smith, Columnist, The Times

NSmithColLogoEditor’s Note: In honor of National Gun Violence Awareness Day — today, June 2 —  Nathaniel Smith sat down with Tom Buglio of Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence to discuss both what today means and his group’s effort to reduce gun violence in the county. Smith’s questions are in bold, while Buglio’s answers follow.

How are you marking June 2, National Gun Violence Awareness Day?

Gun violence happens every day.  I belong to an organization trying to raise awareness about this problem that plagues the country and county. National Gun Violence Awareness Day sprang from a teenager’s death in Chicago that got some notoriety: a stellar student participated in a marching band at president Obama’s second inauguration, and less than two weeks later she was gunned down by a stray bullet in Chicago. 

National Gun Violence Awareness Day got started when a local organization wanted to raise awareness about her and other deaths from guns.  They connected with a national group and campaigned for people to wear orange–the color designating safety for hunters in the woods–to promote awareness.

How are we observing the Day? I’ll be on the radio tomorrow, WCHE 1520 AM, at 8:15.  I sent to my two email lists asking people to wear orange, to talk to someone new about the gun violence issue, and to consider contributing to any of the many gun violence protection groups, such as Ceasefire PA, Americans for Responsible Solutions, or the Brady Campaign.

When did the Chester County Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence get started?

It was started at my church, after Sandy Hook in Dec. 2013.  Within two weeks we had a social justice meeting and started a subcommittee.  Out of that I realized we had to go public, formed the Coalition, and have been trying to attract all who care about the issue.  Even in bucolic Chester County there are incidents, even in West Chester.

What impelled you to do that?

I have cared a lot about this issue since Columbine, in 1999. It really hit me hard since I was trained as teacher. There was lots of publicity at the time, but very little real progress on gun safety afterwards. The stats are hard to swallow: since Sandy Hook, there have been over 100 school shooting incidents in the US.

Has this effort been time-consuming?

I don’t really think about the time.  I do have a full time job, family, and other interests.  Everyone has a burning issue, the one to speak up on.  This is mine.  Sandy Hook crystallized it for me.

What is the relation between gun violence protection and gun control?

Gun control, a term for many years, has become dated.  It is not useful because it cuts off communication with gun rights supporters.  All should agree on gun violence protection: police, gun users, and the average person.

Common sense solutions are urgently needed to prevent gun use by people that shouldn’t have access to guns, and to influence those who do have guns to use them responsibly.

What positive results have you seen so far?

Locally, we have allies in positions of influence, such as the mayor of West Chester, Downingtown, and Oxford, members of Mayors against Illegal Guns.  Then gun groups got Harrisburg to take away the right for mayors to take own actions on guns.

Some States have moved forward, including most of those around PA, with good new gun safety laws, especially strengthening background checks. Washington and Oregon are the most recent of these.

Have you seen resistance locally?

I have been on panel sponsored by West Chester’s mayor to talk to gun rights activists.  We tried to find common ground, and gun rights activists are willing to listen about background checks and similar measures; but what prevents action is their mistrust of government.  I blame the NRA for spreading anti-government paranoia, which poisons the well for discussion.

There was an incident at a march for gun violence protection in Lewisburg PA, sponsored by a sister group.  They were met by counterdemonstrators wearing guns and ammunition, including AK 47s, who infiltrated their ranks in the park where the rally was to occur, and harassed speakers through bullying tactics,

Are there legislative actions you would like to see pass in Harrisburg?

Certainly.  A bill from last session will be reintroduced to close the gun background check loophole in PA.  Background checks here are pretty good except on long guns (rifles).  So you can buy semiautomatic rifles without a background check.  Terrorists and criminals can buy them easily.  I hope this bill will pass.

A second bill will require reporting of lost or stolen guns, in order to attack gun fencing and trafficking.  Currently people buy and resell multiple guns.

A third bill to be introduced this session concerns domestic violence, a plague in this country, that all rational people feel the need to deal with.  The bill would take away gun use from those under a temporary restraining order.  That is the most dangerous period of time between an abuser and an intimate partner.

The gun lobby wants everyone to carry guns.  But stats show a gun you own is far more likely to be used on yourself or your family–by accident, anger, or suicide–than used in self-defense.  No one is currently required to take a gun safety program in PA, so having more guns without training is not a helpful response.

Have legislators been responsive?

We made some progress last year in lobbying representative Dan Truitt (R-156), who voted for HB 1010, the bill to close the long gun sales loophole. Representative Chris Ross (R 158) supported that measure too and also the lost or stolen guns bill.

How about Washington DC?

We had no luck with then US Congressman (Jim) Gerlach (R, PA-06) and are currently trying to talk to his Rep. (Ryan) Costello (R, PA-06) on a good bill in Congress requiring national background checks for all sales online and at gun shows.

How do you assess the climate for gun violence prevention right now in Chester County?

Our issue is not enough in the public consciousness.  That’s why our group has to keep on raising it.  The Daily Local News seems sympathetic and often supports gun violence prevention measures in editorials.

How about the climate in the state and country?

Our state is unlikely to pass a law in the current climate.  That’s why we need to try to make it an election issue.  Many politicians find it a divisive issue because of the single-minded gun rights noise. Politicians want to avoid the issue of gun safety.  With over 30,000 Americans dying every year due to gun violence, we can’t afford to let them avoid it.

Do you have any predictions for how things will develop in the next couple of years?

My prediction: the gun violence issue in a lull statewide, though there is progress in other states.   Nationally it’s uphill.  But the seeds of progress are there; many groups are sick and tired of the barrage of gun violence that doesn’t get the attention of our leaders.

Big money is behind tackling the issue, such as Michael Bloomberg, or Bill Gates in Washington State.  We can counteract NRA in presidential election years, when more vote.  In  2012 the NRA funded a lot of candidates who lost, but in 2014 more who won.  The majority of Americans do feel we need to do something.

Do you have any last thoughts for National Gun Violence Awareness Day?

You don’t have to go far to find someone affected, or who knows someone affected, by gun violence.  All of us are connected as a country.  We need to care for and look out for each other. One way is to make the country safer from gun violence.  Immediate attention is not just needed; it is vital

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