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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

Gun violence is literally killing us

March 24, 2021 Philadelphia Gay News

America was still reeling from the mass femicide in Atlanta last week that killed seven women, six of them Asian, when the Boulder shooting happened on March 22.

The Biden White House had no sooner raised the flag again after a week of lowering it in honor of the Atlanta victims than it was lowered again for the ten people murdered in the Boulder killing spree.

But in the week that saw two mass shootings that left 18 dead, there were even more people killed by guns in Philadelphia.

More than 380 people have been shot fatally or non-fatally so far this year in the city, including 40 children, according to the Philadelphia Police Department.

“The number of guns that are on the street is irrational and crazy,” said Mayor Jim Kenney during the city’s first public briefing on how it’s responding to gun violence on March 17.

Philadelphia hasn’t had any mass murders, but gun violence has escalated dramatically in the past year. In 2020, the city reported a huge uptick in gun violence: 499 people were shot to death and more than 2,200 others were wounded. According to recent PPD statistics, gun violence is up 60% in Philadelphia so far this year and is on track to be the most murderous in decades.

In a recent press conference, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Danielle Outlaw said, “We’ve got to pay attention to themes and patterns. We saw an increase in our domestic violence-related incidents of violent crime or homicides. And then we also saw that a lot of the shootings and homicides were driven by narcotics.” Outlaw also said that social media can trigger “beefs” that result in shootings. Marginalized communities are most at risk from gun violence in Philadelphia and throughout the country. The pandemic has added a layer of issues that have, coupled with the massive number of guns in the country, intensified the violence.

Angry, isolated men like Richard Aaron Long, who is accused of the Atlanta spa murders, and Ahmad Al Aliwi Alissa, accused in the Boulder mass shooting, exemplify this problem. Access to guns is too easy and it’s not the so-called “responsible gun owners” who are perpetrating the violence.

April is workplace violence awareness month, and statistics show women are nearly three times more likely to be murdered on the job compared to men, as was seen in Atlanta and increasingly here in Philadelphia and the near suburbs. Homicides account for 22 percent of all female workplace deaths. For men, it only accounts for eight percent of deaths on the job.

The failure to address gun violence in America puts many of us at risk. Three people have been shot to death out in front of my house in the past four years, most recently on Thanksgiving Eve 2020. My wife has had to wash blood off our car and hose down the street in front of our house after a man’s body lay there for hours while police investigated two separate late-night killings.

I live in a mostly poor, mostly Black neighborhood where lower Germantown meets Nicetown-Tioga. The sound of gunfire — particularly semi-automatic weapons fire — is commonplace, especially on the weekend and as the weather gets warmer.

Last weekend, the Mister Softee truck was out and so were the guns. On Saturday afternoon the music from the ice cream truck was barely fading away from our block when shots rang out. I commented to my wife as I dialed 911 that this was not what I had hoped for in our city getting back to “normal” from the pandemic.

I have been writing about gun violence in Philadelphia for decades, now. I have appeared on panels, radio and TV programs talking about the violence, the plethora of guns and the hopelessness of city officials in the face of Harrisburg’s intransigence to create meaningful gun control or even give Philadelphia an exemption to control the dramatic number of guns and straw purchases in the city.

In 2016, after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida that killed 49 LGBT people and wounded 53 others, I spoke with several local and national politicians about the problem. The late Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) spoke with me briefly after he led a sit-in among Democrats in the House. Several senators, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren joined him.

The then-76 year old Lewis sat cross-legged on the floor, a rainbow cuff on his wrist as he demanded an end to the violence. Then-Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI), turned off C-SPAN and turned off the lights.

Ryan’s egregious action is symbolic of how the GOP has scoffed at any efforts to curtail gun sales and mitigate the violence. Since the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, some lawmakers, notably anti-LGBTQ activists Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), have flouted the no-weapons policy by going around weapons’ screening at the House.

On March 23, GOP senators made outrageous comments about gun control. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) claimed attempts by Democrats to initiate gun control wasn’t serious.

“Every time there’s a shooting, we play this ridiculous theater where this committee gets together and proposes a bunch of laws that would do nothing to stop these murders,” Cruz said.

Yet other nations do not have our problem — or our dead. After only one mass shooting in New Zealand in 2019, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern banned all assault weapons. But when President Biden called for a similar ban on March 23, he was told he didn’t have the votes.

Even some Democrats aren’t ready to end the violence, apparently.

On March 24, Vice President Kamala Harris urged lawmakers to rethink gun control and enact meaningful laws that would control the outflow of the semi-automatic rifles and handguns most often used to kill both mass numbers of people and intimate partners.

Our electeds need to step up on this issue and demand change. Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) has previously partnered with Democrats on gun violence. Now that he is not running for re-election or other office, Toomey could — and should — work toward meaningful gun control in the Senate.

In Pennsylvania there are no wait times for gun purchases. As soon as you fill out your paperwork, you can take your guns and go shoot someone. Yet to vote in the state you must register 31 days before any election. Shouldn’t it be easier to vote than to buy a gun and kill someone?

That is the question for lawmakers in the coming days. For those of us most at risk from gun violence, this isn’t politics, it’s real life. There are bullet holes in my dining room and living room windows. We don’t get those windows repaired on purpose, as a reminder of the ongoing war against the citizenry of this city right outside our door. Guns are literally killing us. When will we be courageous enough to stop the bloodbath?

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