by Peggy Walsh, BCWAC Partner and BCWAC Representative on PA for Universal Background Checks statewide coalition
As I watched PBS’s Gunned Down: The Power of the NRA, I was struck by a quote toward the end: “You don’t need 1000 people or 1 million dollars—you need 100 people who will call and attend town hall meetings and vote.” The documentary suggests that the percentage of radical NRA members, those who see a threat in any compromise or effort to pass common-sense gun safety measures, is relatively small. This group, however, is obsessed with their rights and with fear that the rest of us are plotting to take their guns. The talking heads, many of whom were former NRA officials, cited how dedicated this relatively small minority is; they are ready at a moment’s notice to pick up the phone and call their representatives and to VOTE. These two actions are the secret of their incredible influence over our legislators.
The documentary also makes clear that the NRA’s power has been built at local levels through grass roots efforts. We must learn from this committed and radical group. Our inability to rally as a nation after Sandy Hook and other recent mass shootings has convinced me that we must put our efforts into state-wide, grassroots initiatives, and we should be encouraged and motivated by signs of a small but hopeful momentum across the country. The most astonishing and encouraging was the passage of Washington State’s initiative 594 that expanded background checks to include gun shows and private firearm sales. Though similar laws have been passed in Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, and elsewhere, the success of Washington’s initiative 594 (against a competing NRA referendum) marks the first measure approved by ballot referendum. Americans for Responsible Solutions (ARS), the anti-gun violence group created by former Rep. Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety cite Nevada, Oregon, Arizona and Maine as their next possible battle ground referendums.
So, what is happening in our NRA friendly state of PA? Currently, Philadelphia, Lancaster, and Pittsburgh are battling in the courts against NRA lawsuits made possible by Act 192, a bill slipped into a metals bill and passed in the dead of night. Act 192 allows any group or individual to sue local governments that pass any gun regulations different from a state’s regulations. Like the NRA lobby, we can identify those who voted for this shameful piece of legislation and express our horror in calls and emails and use our voting power to ensure that these people are not re-elected.
We can also support those who are battling to make inroads into the insane gun culture in our state. Senators Lawrence Farnesse and Vincent Hughes have introduced a number of proposals to expand background checks and tighten some loopholes. One of these is to prohibit anyone convicted of domestic violence or child abuse from owning a firearm in PA. Unbelievably, current law reveals that convictions for a number of serious crimes, including crimes of violence, sex crimes, and crimes against children, do not disqualify a person from possessing a firearm in this state. We can call and write our own legislators and ask that they support Farnesse and Hughes. We can also tell our legislators that we are not in favor Senator John Eichelberger’s proposal to reintroduce SB 505, a bill that would prohibit the use of any state or local resources, including personnel, buildings, and equipment, to enforce any new federal restriction, prohibition or registration requirement on the purchase or ownership of firearms and firearms accessories which are currently legal products in Pennsylvania.
It is amazing that any legislator in PA is brave enough to incur the wrath of the NRA; these brave lawmakers need our support and our votes. I urge all of you to contact your state legislators and express your support of common-sense gun safety laws. Become a member of Every Town for Gun Safety or Americans for Responsible solutions or the Sandy Hook Promise. Maybe, we should start giving our own A-ratings to those legislators who are willing to challenge the insane worship of the rights of the NRA in the state of PA. The rest of us have rights too.