Once again, a violent rampage has forced the question: How can we stop this from happening again?
Speaking to NEXTpittsburgh, Shira Goodman, the executive director of CeaseFirePA, stressed that a citizen’s most valuable tool in the fight against gun violence is the ballot box. “This has to be a voting issue,” she says.
While city hall has some powers to limit guns in public spaces and buildings within the city limits, the main authority for regulating firearms lies at the state and federal levels.
Several high-profile gun control measures have been introduced in the state legislature over the last year, and there has been some progress. Earlier this month, the state Senate passed a bill requiring citizens with a domestic violence ruling against them to surrender their firearms within 24 hours despite strenuous opposition from the NRA.
However, the majority of bills have not been allowed a full debate in either chamber. Proposals like an assault weapon ban, universal background checks and baseline requirements for the storage of guns continue to languish in various committees.
When it comes to gun violence “our state legislature hasn’t seen fit to have that conversation,” says Goodman. “Too many bills are going to committee to die.”
The social and political challenges are formidable. But there are many groups doing critical work to end gun violence. In the wake of the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, “people should know that even while they’re mourning, they can take action,” says Goodman.
We’ve been frequently updating our list of the many local organizations offering free access and opportunities to gather together, and we’ve written on the gestures of support for Pittsburgh that have emerged each day since the shooting. Below, we’ve rounded up details on several groups tackling the issue of gun violence, both in Pittsburgh and across the country.
CeaseFirePA: The aforementioned nonprofit works on both political advocacy and community-based education and outreach with partner organizations across the state. In Pittsburgh, CeaseFire collaborates with the Bloomfield-Garfield Corporation and Pittsburgh North People for Peace.
Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence: This advocacy group was founded by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Giffords, who was shot in the head during a campaign event in 2011, has emerged as a tireless advocate for the prevention of gun violence. The organization includes both a Political Action Committee and a Law Center where legal experts are retained to write, research and defend sensible gun laws.
Everytown for Gun Safety: The brainchild of former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg, Everytown confronts gun violence on a variety of fronts. The organization provides funding and support for a wide coalition of grassroots, activist groups including Moms Demand Action, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Students Demand Action and the Everytown Survivor Network. Together, these groups advocate for better laws at all levels of government.
In addition to action at the policy level, Everytown also works on voter mobilization to support pro-reform candidates. These efforts include everything from canvassing to a search engine that directs voters to Everytown’s sponsored candidates.
Violence Policy Center: Since 1988, the nonprofit Violence Policy Center has produced annual, state-by-state reports on the effects of gun violence using data from a variety of open government databases. The center takes the position that gun violence is a matter of public health, not crime, and focuses much of their analysis and research on how minority and marginalized communities are affected by the epidemic.
Another aspect of gun violence that organizations are addressing is the question of mental health. As many of the advocacy groups above note, the majority of gun deaths in America are self-inflicted. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention is a resource that provides research, advocacy and one-on-one social services. Their Pittsburgh chapter holds regular informal group meetings at college campuses around the city where anyone can volunteer or learn about how to get help for themselves or a loved one.
Finally, help starts at home. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health or emotional distress, support from Resolve Crisis Services is free to every resident of Allegheny County. Find them at 1-888-796-8226 (1-888-7-YOU-CAN).