Shusterman, other legislators call for special session on gun violence

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State Rep. Melissa Shusterman

In response to the massacres in El Paso and Dayton, State Rep. Melissa Shusterman, D-Chester/Montgomery, is one of several House Democrats urging Gov. Tom Wolf to call a special joint session of the legislature to address gun violence and extremism in the wake of two mass shootings within 13 hours of each other last weekend.

Shusterman, accompanied by members of the PA SAFE Caucus, called for a special session to consider legislation in the House and Senate that would address access to guns for people at risk of violence to themselves or others, close the loophole for gun background checks, and to ban assault weapons.

“We cannot afford another preventable tragedy in our own backyard. What happened in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio can be avoided here in Pennsylvania, so instead of wallowing in this seemingly never-ending cycle of tragedy, let’s end it,” Shusterman said. “We can go into session right now and pass legislation that would make it more difficult to put guns in these people’s hands.”

Shusterman and members of the PA SAFE Caucus noted that most public opinion polls reveal that the most Americans support mandatory background checks on gun purchases, as well as other safety legislation.

“Our communities, like communities across the country, are in mourning because gun violence — in schools, streets, churches and synagogues, workplaces, festivals, concerts, and shopping centers— has led to more deaths and more fear,”  said House PA Safe Caucus co-chair Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny. “While we keep the communities of El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio in our hearts, we must also focus on the realities that predated and enabled these atrocities.”

In a letter to Gov. Wolf, the chairs of the PA SAFE Caucus called for a special session to respond to the recent mass shootings. Legislation pending in the House and Senate include bills to ban assault weapons, address access to guns for people at risk of violence to self or others, and close the loophole for gun background checks, among others.

“The vast majority of residents are calling for action on legislation to prevent gun violence, but their voices are being stifled by legislative leaders who refuse to bring these bills up for a vote in Harrisburg,” said PA Safe Caucus co-chair Sen. Steve Santarsiero (D-10).  “It is our moral duty to come together in a special session this fall and make these voices heard by enacting commonsense gun safety measures.”

Members of the PA SAFE Caucus noted that almost every public opinion poll conducted shows that the majority of Americans support mandatory background checks on gun purchases, as well as other safety legislation.

“Our hearts ache for the victims of the mass shootings in Ohio and Texas. How many more lives must be lost before we enact gun reform? The number of incidences resulting in gun violence is way out of hand,” said state Rep. Movita Johnson-Harrell, D-Phila., and co-chair of the House caucus. “The thoughts and prayers rhetoric needs to stop. We need to protect our communities and prevent further bloodshed in this country.”

The PA SAFE Caucus is made up of 70 members of the PA House and Senate  who believe in reducing all types of violence in society through adequate funding for mental health services; stronger tools for law enforcement; resources to curb the effects of addiction and illegal drugs; and solutions that reduce gun violence and promote public safety.

Shusterman said the past week’s incidents must spark lawmakers to take action.

“When two of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history happen within the same news cycle you know our nation is in a dark place. It is clear that we as a society have become numb to such events,” Shusterman said. “I’ve heard the cliché ‘tragedies show us the best humanity has to offer’ regarding these shootings, and it’s starting to unnerve me. It seems to be part of the script following every mass shooting. It seems to be a way to minimize the terror of the actual shooting and instead put the focus on the recovery that should never have been necessary.

“My colleagues and I have over 25 pieces of legislation that have not been passed out of committee that could put Pennsylvanians’ safety before an industry’s profits. The time is now to put an end to these hateful acts of violence. I urge our leaders to call the legislature to Harrisburg and not stand idly by.”

Shusterman encourages her constituents to call the majority chair of the Judiciary Committee, Rep. Rob Kauffman, at (717) 705-2004 and ask him to schedule hearings on gun violence prevention legislation, and to call House Speaker Mike Turzai at (717) 772-9943.

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