MEDIA >> As temperatures dropped Friday evening ahead of an expected snowstorm, a large crowd assembled in front of the Delaware County Courthouse to call for a ban on assault weapons only became more heated.
“United we stand!” Terry Rumsey shouted into the assembly.
“Demand the ban!” the crowd answered back as one.
Rumsey, co-chair of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy with his wife, Robin Lasersohn, explained Friday’s event was not a vigil for those killed at a Florida high school earlier this week – though they were very much on the minds of those present – but was rather an “organizing meeting” for a planned March 21 event at U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s Philadelphia office.“I am tired of coming to events like these, I am tired of organizing events like these, but more than
anything, I am tired of being told by politicians and pundits and professionals that we should not mention guns after a mass shooting with an assault weapon, that it’s not an appropriate time,” said Rumsey. “Well, it is the appropriate time and tonight we are going to be speaking about an assault weapons ban.”
Lasersohn said advocates for that ban, including members of the Charles Foundation, Heeding God’s Call to End Gun Violence and The Simple Way, would meet in Philadelphia on the morning of March 21 to melt down an AR-15, which would then be repurposed into a gardening tool with the help of RAW Tools.
This “symbol of life” will then be presented to Toomey’s office along with a request for the Republican to sign onto a bill proposed by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., that would ban the sale of military-style assault weapons.
Lasersohn said advocates will go into Toomey’s office, or get as close as they can, and will not leave until he either agrees to sign on or they are taken out by police.
Toomey spokesman Steve Kelly said March 21 is a session day and the senator will be required to be in Washington, but members of the group will be welcome to come into the office and have a discussion on gun safety.
Toomey does not support categorical weapons bans like the one proposed by Feinstein, Kelly said, but he does support legislation that works to keep weapons out of the hands of those who should not have them.
“I believe gun safety legislation should focus on keeping guns away from those who shouldn’t have them, which is why I am skeptical of banning firearms or firearm accessories outright,” said Toomey in a statement provided by Kelly.
Lasersohn praised Toomey for co-sponsoring the 2013 Toomey-Manchin bill to expand national background checks on gun sales, but said he has been quiet on the issue since.
Kelly responded that Toomey reintroduced the Toomey-Manchin bill in 2015, introduced legislation with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, to ensure people on the “no fly” list can’t purchase firearms and is a co-sponsor on the “Fix NICS Act” that would impose penalties on government agencies for failing to report to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.
Toomey was also the only Republican to speak on the Senate floor about a possible bipartisan agreement during a Democratic filibuster for gun control in the wake of a 2016 night club shooting in Orlando, Kelly noted.
“I am committed to improving our federal background check system, which is why my staff and I will continue to reach out to senators on both sides of the aisle to see where progress can be made,” Toomey said in another statement provided by Kelly. “I am also open to new legislation establishing stricter penalties for people who steal or illegally possess firearms.”
The Feinstein bill includes certain exemptions for grandfathered weapons and is not retroactive, but would halt future sales of handguns or rifles with magazines capable of carrying 10 or more rounds.
Lasersohn said getting into semantic arguments about what constitutes an “assault weapon” is a tactic promoted by gun manufacturers through lobbyists to muddy the waters around the debate, but Feinstein’s bill – with the backing of a quarter of the Senate since its introduction in November – presents clear language of what the term entails.
Also speaking Friday was Movita Johnson-Harrell, who lost a father, brother and 18-year-old son, Charles Andre Johnson, to gun violence. She and husband Yancy Harrell founded the Charles Foundation in his name.
“I am exhausted,” said Johnson-Harrell. “I am exhausted of losing people to gun violence.”
She described kissing her son goodbye on the night of Jan. 12, 2011, only to see him a few hours later in a body bag at the hospital, murdered in a case of mistaken identity.
“No family should have to suffer this,” she said. “When those parents of those children sent their children to school (Wednesday) morning, they did not know that they were not coming home. So it’s time. It’s time to do something different.”
Johnson-Harrell said she had “paid the ultimate price … for the greed of the gun lobby,” but pleaded with the crowd to make a change now for the sake of their children and grandchildren.
“Because we live in a society where we cannot safely go to a movie,” she said. “We cannot safely go to a show, we cannot go and pick our loved ones up and goddammit, our kids can’t even go to school!”
State Sen. Daylin Leach, D-17 of Lower Merion, and former Central Intelligence Agency counter-intelligence officer Shelly Chauncey, of Glen Mills, were at Friday’s event. Both are Democratic candidates in the 7th Congressional District race, though Leach has suspended his campaign.
Leach said he would begin circulating a bill next week that would allow a judge to temporarily separate a potential threat identified by citizen petition from his or her weapons until certain conditions imposed by the judge are met, if warranted.
“You have to have a mechanism, because I’m tired of watching on TV where people are like, ‘He posted on Facebook two weeks ago he was going to kill everybody and boy, I thought that was really weird,’” Leach said. “We have to be able to do something about that when that happens.”
“Enough is enough,” said Chauncey. “Our children … have spent way too much time now being afraid to go to school, and demanding a ban on weapons that are designed to kill mass quantities of people as quickly as possible is not unreasonable.”
Chauncey said it is not an interference with the Second Amendment or people’s way of life, but is a “common-sense policy” that prevents children from dying. She noted she served 15 years in the CIA, her father is a gun owner and her son goes hunting with her dad.
“This isn’t about the second amendment and banning guns, this is about banning guns that have no place in a reasonable society,” she said. “And we need to call this what it is: It is terrorism. It’s not gun ownership, it’s not responsible gun ownership, it’s not hobbies, it’s not hunting, it is mass terrorism of our children and enough is enough.”