Ten-year-old Sameje O’Branty was shot in the head on the way back home from school. Seven-year-old Leslie Woodson was shot at home during a massacre that left him and three other family members dead. Two-year-old Nikolette Rivera was fatally struck by a bullet while in her mother’s arms. Eleven-month-old Yazeem Jenkins was shot in his stepmother’s car. Four-year-old Maxillie Alcindor and 10-month-old Damaya Alcindor were shot in their home alongside their father, allegedly by their mother. Eleven-year-old Ayyub Leach was shot and killed at home by his older brother in a shooting that authorities suspect was unintentional.
One month, seven children shot — five of them fatally. Could these tragedies give Harrisburg the minimal courage, or at least an ounce of compassion, to allow Philadelphia to enact even mild gun control measures? Don’t hold your breath.
On Nov. 21, Philadelphia’s City Council unanimously approved “Safe Haven” legislation that would ban firearms from the city’s recreation centers and playgrounds. The measure, championed by Council President Darrell Clarke, was conceived in response to a bloody summer that included a mass shooting in a playground in Southwest Philadelphia.
But despite Philadelphia’s home rule, the city is not allowed to make decisions on how best to keep its children safe. State law pre-empts municipalities from enacting and enforcing gun control measures. Democratic state Rep. Donna Bullock introduced legislation that would have authorized Philly’s ban, but the Republican-controlled state House Judiciary Committee did not advance the bill. It doesn’t intend to address gun control again this session. One of the bills that the committee did advance was to allow individuals and organizations like the National Rifle Association to sue municipalities if they pass gun control laws.
If Pennsylvania legislators cared about the safety of children, they would not only authorize its cities (big and small) to try to address the current gun violence crisis but take proactive measures to try to make things better. They could start by enacting a safe storage law — that would require gun owners to be responsible by locking guns not in use.
Opponents of gun control often argue that since the majority of shootings are done with already illegal guns, the regulation of legal firearms is futile. That logic is flawed. Guns and their parts are manufactured legally and then at some point get diverted to the illicit market. Unsurprisingly, unsafe gun storage practices are a risk factor for a gun being stolen. One way to prevent that diversion is by requiring that guns be stored safely. It is also a proven measure to reduce unintentional shootings, especially among children — which is why these laws are often called child access prevention laws.
In their refusal to act, state lawmakers are sending a clear message: The lives of children — especially brown and black ones — in Philadelphia don’t matter.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER