COMMUNITY VIOLENCE PREVENTION
The list of impacted cities to mass shootings in now too long to list. And community violence is increasing as homicides by firearms have been on the rise for many years and according to the CDC there were 1,752 firearm mortalities in Pennsylvania in 2020. That’s up from 1,390 in 2014.
Endless community violence, suicides and massacres need to be answered by state action. We need to keep dangerous weapons off the streets and out of the hands of people that are unstable and likely to commit deadly crimes, provide more and improved mental health services, and provide resources to secure vulnerable sites like schools and places of worship.
In the recent legislative sessions, we acted to address some safety concerns related to school and community violence and to protect victims of domestic violence. We adopted legislation requiring schools to conduct safety and security assessment and provided $200 million in grants to provide mental health resources and secure school building. We further provided $260 million for grants to support law enforcement, gun violence prevention and prosecution, develop community violence prevention programs.
But in order to truly address gun violence the General Assembly needs to do more. We will fight for the following:
BAN ASSAULT WEAPONS
We must prohibit ownership of assault weapons such as the AR-15, including its high capacity ammunition feeding devices and other accessories, have become the tool of choice in mass murders.
EXTREME RISK PROTECTIONS
Implementation of legislation to allow for courts to order public protection orders if a person is demonstrating dangerous mental health characteristics would provide much needed protection to the public. Such an order would temporarily suspend an individual’s access to firearms if there is documented evidence that a person is threatening to harm themselves or others. The person subject to that order must surrender their guns to police and will not be able to buy, sell, or possess other firearms with a judge determining the time frame of this suspension not to exceed one year.
SAFE STORAGE REQUIREMENTS
Too many firearm incidents happen because of improperly securing guns to prevent them from getting into the wrong hands, including children or unwell individuals. Requiring gun locks and safe storage are commonsense prevention options.
MENTAL HEALTH IN SCHOOLS
Recognizing the particular vulnerability that exists in our schools, we propose a new requirement that each school must provide school psychologists, school counselors, and school social workers to meet the mental health needs of their students. Offering these services will go a long way toward intervening with students that might commit the worst violence and to greatly improve school climate and student performance.
UNIVERSAL BACKGROUND CHECKS
While this should be common sense, expanded our current system of background checks to ALL firearm sales has been elusive. Currently certain gun show purchases and person-to-person sales do not require a basic background check. Every firearm sale in Pennsylvania needs to undergo a background check.
The time for debate has passed. It’s clear that guns are a problem that needs to be addressed and without legislation we are going to continue to see the awful events of the past repeat themselves. We must take action now.
EQUALITY AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
Pennsylvania can be a wonderful place to work and live, to raise a family, to go to school, to start a business. We must ensure that those opportunities are available to all our residents, regardless of their gender, race, sexual orientation or creed.
- We must fight racism in all its forms and in all its places. Hate crimes are skyrocketing, racism is rampant in our politics and our institutions, and it has become normalized by right-wing elected officials and pundits. This must come to an end as we seek justice for all. Expanding and better enforcing our hate crimes statute, recognizing and rooting racism in our institutions, better training for law enforcement, and a focus on post-secondary schools for both educating our citizens and ensuring fair access to an education are just some of the ideas we are embracing.
- This means preserving women’s rights, making sure their access to health care and reproductive rights are protected, that they receive the same pay for the same work, and that they are free from sexual harassment in the workplace.
- We need to protect the rights of our LGBTQ citizens as well. Right now, we have no statewide nondiscrimination laws that prohibit discrimination in housing or employment based on sexual orientation or gender. Many of our neighboring states do, and it’s time we join them in making everyone feel comfortable and welcome in this commonwealth.
- Providing the LGBT community same protections against hate crimes afforded to other minority groups. Many of our neighboring states do, and it’s time we join them in making everyone feel safe and welcome in this Commonwealth
CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM
Re-entering a community after serving time in prison can be difficult, and it’s one of the factors that leads to higher rates of recidivism. We can:
- Reform our probation and parole systems to reduce the total amount of time a person can be on probation or parole, eliminate or reduce the impact of technical violations, and reduce the power that prosecutors and judges have for prolonging terms for getting out of probation and parole.
- Create programs to ease the re-entry process can be enormously helpful in getting a person back on their feet
- Continue to reform the expungement process, so that more minor offenses can be wiped from a person’s record so they don’t spend the rest of their lives paying for a single mistake.
- “Ban the Box,” a provision that prohibits employers from asking job applicants if they’ve ever been convicted of a crime in the first round of their screening process. Too often, checking “Yes” in that box will automatically disqualify an applicant.
- Eliminate incarceration for someone who fails to pay their cash bail. Paying a cash bail is simply not possible for some people and locking them up for failing to pay that is a policy that punishes them again for not having means.