Another weekend, another episode of gun violence on Philadelphia streets. Many people across our city are looking for action to stem gun violence, and our office has a plan: a prohibition on firearms and deadly weapons at city recreation centers and playgrounds.
At a news conference last week at Mander Recreation Center in Strawberry Mansion, state legislators from our Philadelphia delegation attended, already on board supporting our proposal – countering the Inquirer editorial board’s claim this week that my proposal is “unlikely to get traction in Harrisburg.”
One legislator, Rep. Donna Bullock (D-195), recounted a litany of incidents of gun violence at recreation centers and playgrounds across Pennsylvania. Bristol, Hazelton, Homestead, Allentown and numerous other locales – all experiencing gun violence at local facilities where children go to play.
We know this problem all too well in Philadelphia. In June, six people were shot, one fatally, at the Finnegan playground in Southwest Philly after a graduation party and cookout. In July, seven people were wounded at the Baker playground in Overbrook at a basketball tournament. Hours after our news conference, gunfire erupted at the same center where we’d been earlier that day. One man was shot, another apprehended.
These are not just statistics in a rising tide of gun violence in our city. They are human beings. These shootings and unacceptable level of violence in Philadelphia deserves our full, immediate attention, and we are taking action.
Our Safe Havens legislation, to be introduced on Council’s return this fall, will prohibit the possession of firearms and other deadly weapons at city recreation facilities. In 2018, there were 18 gun crimes at rec centers, and 526 crimes overall. That is unconscionable.
The difference between this legislation and a similar bill passed in Council a few years ago is we are collaborating closely with our Philadelphia delegation in Harrisburg. We need state enabling authorization to take this step, and there is precedent. The Commonwealth already bans firearms from courthouses and courtrooms under state law. If we can protect attorneys, judges, and litigants from harm, why can’t we protect our children and their families at city-owned recreation facilities?
Do not take my word for it. In a landmark Supreme Court case on guns in Washington, D.C., the majority opinion stated: “Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited … [and] nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on … laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive spaces such as schools and government buildings.”
The writer of that opinion was Justice Antonin Scalia, the most prominent conservative on the court in decades, and a staunch defender of gun rights.
Nothing in our legislation, or the companion bills that our colleagues plan to introduce in the legislature this fall, seeks to interfere with law-abiding citizens’ rights to safely carry and possess firearms. We respect their rights.
But our children have an equal right to splash in the water and sunshine at city recreation facilities, free from the fear of being shot. We cannot stand by and allow the sounds of childrens’ laughter to be replaced by the crackle of gunfire.
If the NRA or the gun industry sues to stop our public safety efforts, let them. We’re working with legislators on both sides of the aisle in Harrisburg on this issue.
This isn’t all we’re doing, either. We joined Attorney General Josh Shapiro recently in support of a grant he made to a grass-roots program to educate women on the jeopardy they face if they purchase guns for individuals prohibited from owning a firearm. The effort, Operation LIPSTICK, makes sense. We also support the Attorney General’s “track and trace” initiative, supported by Philadelphia Police, to use data to track the flow of illegal guns across county lines.
In City Council, with our legislative delegation in Harrisburg, and with the Attorney General’s office and others, we’re taking action to protect our citizens from gun violence. We won’t let up. And we’re gaining ground, every day.