Philadelphians make voices heard during White House Gun Violence Task Force meetings

Vice President Joe Biden told reporters on Thursday that the White House Gun Violence Task Force formed in the wake of the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn. will this Tuesday present a series of recommendations to President Barack Obama aimed at addressing gun violence.

Philadelphia has had a strong voice in crafting those recommendations. Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey last month traveled to Washington to participate in the task force, though he declined comment pending White House clearance.

“I feel very positive because it became clear to me that this task force is going to be the kind of task force that really focuses on working toward concrete recommendations,” said CeaseFirePA executive director Shira Goodman, who on Wednesday attended a meeting of the task force focused on activists and victims’ advocates.

“The Vice President said it was ‘an awakening of the American consciousness’ and we have to move forward. He used the words, ‘this is not a photo opportunity, this is serious business.’ It’s going to make progress.”

She said Biden’s interest was particularly piqued when she brought up Pennsylvania’s failure to coordinate mental health records between the state database against which gun sale background checks are conducted and the national database.

“That basically means that someone might go into a gun shop here, have check run through the Pennsylvania system and come up as not allowed to buy, but they can go to another state that only uses the federal system and that won’t show up,” she said.

She also advocated for statewide reporting requirements for all lost and stolen guns and amending the state’s concealed carry permit reciprocity, also known as the “Florida loophole,” that allows those who have been denied gun permits in Pennsylvania to apply for them in other states whose guidelines are not as strict.

U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah (D–Phila), vice-chair of a parallel gun task force in Congress, said he’s confident that the administration, legislature and private partners will work together to achieve “commonsense” measures that include prosecuting those who attempt to purchase guns illegally and requiring background checks for all gun purchases, not just those bought from federally-licensed dealers.

“I’ve signed up to help think this through and hopefully come up with a set of proposals that may include both legislative action, executive action and hopefully cooperation from others, including health care providers, the entertainment industry and mental health professionals and families,” he said. “If we were ever going to take more stringent action, the time is now.”

Growing support

Sen. Bob Casey (D–Pa.), who once scored high marks from the NRA, changed his tune on some gun laws last month following the massacre at Sandy Hook.

While still a supporter of the Second Amendment, he said the reinstatement of a ban on military-style weapons and high capacity magazines are two commonsense steps he would support.

“Don’t think that TV news can’t influence you,” he told a group of supporters at an emotional 90-minute meeting on Monday. “I watched NBC’s Pete Williams walk in the halls of the school with arrows on the floor showing the path of the gunman. That is when I realized that he didn’t intend to kill just students in two rooms – he intended to kill every child in that school.”

He said one of his daughters also swayed him. “I was haunted by the reality of 20 kids dead and the possibility of an entire school dying,” he said. “My daughter asked me, ‘Dad, you have a vote. What are you going to do about it?'”

– Laura Goldman

NRA fires back

The Task Force on Thursday met with gun retailers and rights organizations – and apparently, it didn’t go that well, from the NRA’s point of view.

“We were disappointed with how little this meeting had to do with
keeping our children safe and how much it had to do with an agenda to
attack the Second Amendment,” the NRA said in a statement. “While claiming that
no policy proposals would be ‘prejudged,’ this Task Force spent most of
its time on proposed restrictions on lawful firearms owners – honest,
taxpaying, hardworking Americans.”

Apparently dissatisfied with the discussion, the NRA said it will instead attempt to advance their legislative agenda with members of Congress.

“It is unfortunate that this Administration continues to insist on pushing failed solutions to our nation’s most pressing problems,” the said. “We will not allow law-abiding gun owners to be blamed for the acts of criminals and madmen.”

The Task Force was in the evening scheduled to meet with members of the
entertainment community. including David Cohen of Philadelphia-based Comcast. The company declined comment
as of press time.

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