Beverly Wright has spent more than 2,700 days mourning her 23-year-old son, Emein Smith, who was shot and killed in Chester in 2005.
On Monday, at a rally of local leaders, law enforcement officials, and anti-violence advocates, she asked parents to imagine living for all that time without their children.
"The pain of losing a son or daughter is the hardest thing a person has to endure," she said, standing before Chester City Hall alongside a quilt she had made from her son's clothing. "But it stings the whole community. . . . We want to go outside without fear."
Wright was one of more than 50 people who gathered Monday as part of the "No More Names" national bus tour, which is aimed at keeping the gun-control debate in the spotlight. The tour began in Newtown, Conn., on the six-month anniversary of the school shootings there and will make stops in 25 states.
Wright praised U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) for supporting legislation this year that would have extended background checks to sales at gun shows and online. The bill fell short of the required votes in April and was shelved. U.S Reps. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.) and Bob Brady (D., Pa.) have backed corresponding legislation in the House, and advocates on Monday also urged local House members Charles Dent (R., Pa.) and Jim Gerlach (R., Pa.) to get on board.
Swarthmore Mayor Richard Lowe said public awareness is crucial in the fight against illegal guns.
"Things get better if you keep pushing," he said.
The coalition on Monday included Antoinette Levitt, a 71-year-old Philadelphia resident who has held a gun permit for most of her life. Levitt, a former member of the National Rifle Association who grew up in a family of hunters and learned firearm safety as a child, said she was "ashamed" that it took the Newtown shootings to make her see that access to firearms should be restricted.
"It took pictures of children who look just like my grandchildren," she said. "I can barely look at those pictures today without crying."
After the rally, Levitt said her recent involvement in anti-violence rallies had led to some heated debates with members of her family, many of whom hesitate to join out of fear they will be booed.
"I can't believe that people like me will not come out and talk about this," she said. "I'm not trying to get rid of the Second Amendment. But I cannot even begin to understand the senselessness of being able to buy a gun online."