The Reporter, Carl Hessler Jr. 

NORRISTOWN — More than two dozen people gathered at a gun violence awareness rally on the steps of the Montgomery County Courthouse on Friday to support survivors of gun violence and advocate for “commonsense” gun control legislation.

Gun violence is a public health crisis in America, said Sarah Jones, a local organizer for CeaseFirePA, the leading gun violence prevention organization in the state.

“It’s a crisis that impacts every corner of our Commonwealth. Today in America, the leading cause of death for children is no longer automobiles, it’s firearms,” Jones told the crowd. “Clearly, we’re in a crisis in Pennsylvania and across the country.”

Many at the rally, which coincided with National Gun Violence Awareness Day, wore orange attire, which officials said is a symbolic reminder that with so few “life-saving laws” in place, everyone is at risk of gun violence. Some of the attendees carried signs that read, “END GUN VIOLENCE” or “BACKGROUND CHECKS: EVERY GUN EVERY TIME.”

Speakers celebrated recent progress on gun violence prevention including the recent passage of gun safety bills in the Democratic-controlled Pennsylvania House to create extreme risk protection orders and to enact universal background checks. The legislation is now in the state Senate for consideration.

“But we can’t stop. Although we have hope and we made a little bit of progress … we can’t stop here. We have a lot of work to do,” said State Rep. Greg Scott, the Democrat who represents the 54th District that includes the Norristown area.

Scott described military-style weapons as “human massacre machines that should not be readily available to the public.”

“And to my colleagues on the other side who say the way to solve these mass shooting problems is to arm teachers — no guns in school, period!” said Scott, whose comments were greeted by applause from some spectators.

Scott said he has seen the need to enhance gun safety laws through his work as a volunteer firefighter and EMT.

“I’m sick of going to crime scene after crime scene and having to pick up pieces of clothing, or bones or body flesh from folks that have been shot. I’m sick as a firefighter from washing down blood off of our streets,” Scott said.

Speakers demanded gun reform that would ban so-called assault-style weapons, enact universal background checks for gun purchases and implement so-called “red flag” laws that temporarily remove guns from those who are at risk to themselves or others.

State Sen. Amanda Cappelletti, the Democrat who represents the 17th District that includes parts of Montgomery and Delaware counties, fought back tears as she thought about the safety of her own child and the statistic that gun violence is now the leading cause of death for children.

“It’s really terrifying. The thing that keeps me going is knowing that over half of all Americans support commonsense gun safety laws such as background checks or the red flag laws,” said Cappelletti, who urged her Republican colleagues in the Senate to pass the gun safety legislation passed by the House, “to address this crisis, this epidemic, to do something to ensure that our children can live free from fear in what should be safe places like schools and shopping malls and movie theaters.”

Citing statistics from a gun violence archive, CeaseFirePa officials said 284 Pennsylvanians have been killed and 858 have been injured by gun violence so far this year.

U.S. Congresswoman Madeleine Dean, the Democrat who represents the 4th District that includes most of Montgomery County and parts of Berks, said she looks forward to the day “when we wear orange because we love the color and it’s a statement of style, not the statement of a deadly issue in this country.”

Dean said so far in 2023 there have been more than 260 mass shootings in the U.S.

“It is on all of us to help end gun violence, to stop the relentless violence that rips communities apart. Events like today unite us in this fight and remind us of the role we all play to help save lives,” Dean said.

Dean said children in schools, who should be learning math and science, today practice active shooter drills that include statements such as “Run, Hide, Fight.”

“We have to stop this insanity,” said Dean, adding she was pleased that the last Congress passed the bipartisan Safer Communities Act that addressed several changes to gun safety laws and was the first federal gun safety legislation enacted in decades. “It’s a start but it’s not nearly enough. We have to ban assault rifles. We have to strengthen background checks.”

Speakers urged voters to elect leaders who are committed to reducing gun violence.

Other speakers at the rally included the Reverend Carolyn Cavaness of Bethel AME Church of Ardmore and Andrea Griffith and Julie Knudsen of the Lincoln Center for Family and Youth.

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