I know many law-abiding people feel safer carrying a gun. In fact, a few years ago, I had a house guest who arrived at my home in Bethlehem carrying his Glock 43.
After a long weekend visit, our friend of 47 years showed us his Glock. I tried to stay cool, but I was shocked. Our friend is one of the kindest, most generous people you could ever know. He explained that his job brings him into high-crime areas and he feels a sense of security carrying his Glock. Our friend lives in Albany, N.Y. He also explained that he needed a license to carry and that he would feel even safer if other states had similar laws to New York, where they have some of the strictest gun legislation in the U.S. The two of us talked it out. I was happy to learn that he was a gun owner in favor of commonsense gun laws.
We did have our differences, however. He may have felt safer, but I felt less safe with a gun in my home. I grew up in farm country in upstate New York. Yes, there were guns in our home. My dad was a hunter. My sisters and I sat in many a duck blind with him. I remember almost falling over the first time I shot my dad’s 12-gauge shotgun. However, the widely publicized study by Arthur Kellermann, published in 1993, made an enormous impression on me. After very thorough and careful research, Kellermann concluded that a gun in the home was associated with a nearly threefold increase in the odds that someone would be killed at home. It was this very study that was one of the catalysts for the NRA to lobby to stop the government from funding gun research. How can we prevent gun violence without research and data?
I understand the gun owner who says, “I purchased my gun legally, why are you making me go through another hoop just to carry my gun?”
I would agree with that sentiment — except that I live in Pennsylvania. All sales at a gun retailer are contingent on a background check. The Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) is quick and it works. It should be the law for every gun purchase, but the infamous Pennsylvania loophole makes it possible for any criminal or domestic abuser to purchase a gun — including long guns like AR-15s — without that background check. In Pennsylvania, the law allows people to purchase a gun at a gun show or through a private sale without a background check.
This is troubling on its own, but even more so when paired with legislation currently pending in the Pennsylvania House. House Bill 659 would allow the same people who bypass the background check requirement to carry their weapon without getting a license.
I understand that some gun owners, like my friend, feel that having a gun keeps them safer. But is it a coincidence that the country with the most guns per person is the country with the most gun-related deaths? I believe the correlation is too strong to ignore. More guns in the hands of people who have not been vetted do not mean less gun violence.
Our friend with the Glock is coming to visit us this month for Musikfest 2021. I will politely ask him to please leave his gun unloaded and locked in his car. And I ask you to call your local legislator and say no to House Bill 659.
Shari Wilson is on the steering committee for Lehigh Valley Friends of CeaseFirePA.