Better Understanding 'Gun Violence'  

December 6, 2019

by: Frank Tait

Yesterday I attended PA Gov. Wolf's 5th in a series of meetings for his Special Council on Gun Violence.  This meeting was held at Temple University Medial school - in the heart of North Philly, 1 subway stop south of where I grew up.  The setup followed the pattern of recent anti-firearm rights events, only anti-rights people on the panel to speak.  No firearm safety experts permitted.  No questions or comments permitted from the audience.  The panel listening and asking questions were members of the Governor's council -  Mike Pennington - PCCD, Brian Kirkland PA Rep, Marcus Brown PA homeland security, Jim Copple SAI, Eric Nelson PA rep, and Anthony Williams PA senate.  The public was able to submit comments in writing or via their website (comments still open).  My facebook notes from the event are here.

Jon Patten and Genevieve Jones from The Gun Collective podcast recently had Sarah and Jon from the Guns Guide to Liberals Podcast on their podcast and I started listening to Sarah and Jon.  Since I couldn't speak or comment at this event, I tried to use some of the techniques Sarah and Jon advocate to better communicate.  It was eye (and ear) opening.  My focus was to see if I could distinguish between the values that the panelists and Council members were espousing from the policies they were recommending. 

We have a lot of commonality on values - saving lives and preventing violence.  

One of the council members quoted Thoreau -  “There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.”  Violence is the root (a gun is just a tool)

The first and second panels were about victim services and the impact of violence on children and youth - the panelists were focused on people and the human condition. Several things stuck out -

  1. 46% of homicide in Philadelphia are driven by Anger - not drugs,
  2. Anger is a reflection of Pain, 
  3. Untreated Trauma leads to Anger,
  4. Trauma, abuse and violence are ingredients in lives,
  5. The Trauma, abuse and violence leads to people living in fear, particularly children and youth  - "there is no one there to protect us" (family, community, schools, police),
  6. Untreated trauma isn't just the personal aftermath of violence, including violent death, it includes the severe lack of something being done to bring perpetrators to justice - in particular Philly PD's woeful closure rate on homicides, treating inner city folks as less than human and providing little to no follow up on their progress (if any) in making arrests or prosecuting the perpetrators of the violence.
  7. Successful community outreach requires credible messengers - members of that community to do the outreach. (I say that since I grew up in the 'hood I can relate, but as a older white guy, I am not relate-able or a credible messenger, hence the need to educate members of the community to bring firearm safety messages into the community)
  8. Illiteracy and fiscal illiteracy are the norm.

The presenting  groups are in the community, many former perpetrators and victims that are helping their fellow community members.  They highlighted an old program that I remember from the gang violence in the early 70's - the Crisis Intervention Network that was addressed by a program led by Bennie Swans and then mayor Frank Rizzo.  It had people in the streets teaching de-escalation and focusing on preventing violence.  There used to be mobile crisis units - but funding has long ago been diverted.  

As much as I was expecting this to be all about guns, other that Sen Williams trying to get statistics on the number of illegal guns in the city and the state from the State Trooper panelist - this session was all about funding - how to get new funding and reallocate money from feel good and academic programs to those that are making meaningful impacts on peoples lives by helping them learn how to deal with their trauma and channel their anger for positive outcomes not violence  getting to root causes - not dealing with symptoms or spending time on data collecting.

One of the points that the Guns Guide to Liberals made in the podcast, was that people will alter their mindset and facts to reinforce their preconceived positions rather than admit that they are wrong - saw this big time with panels 3 and 4 with the research and law enforcement perspectives.  Not even a glimmer that their "evidence based research" and "community policing" has no impact on the victims of violence or how their approaches actually perpetuate the cycle of violence even in the face of compelling testimony from panels 1 and 2.

One positive outcome was a conversation with the PA  State Chapter Lead for the Moms Demand Action, Marybeth Christiansen.  Turns out she is a firearm owner and a member of LPRGC, where I am the board chair.  We talked about the home firearm safety program I'm trying to get going in the Philly area. Marybeth asked if my program is applicable to the suburbs and would I be interested in talking to their group about safety.  We'll see if we can work something out. I'll be using the techniques from Guns Guide to Liberals when that happens.

I've gotten similar nice-nice comments at events before with zero follow through. I've offered FREE NRA Home Firearm safety classes for 1,000 students, to multiple US representatives, State Senators, State Representatives, Township Commissioners, Faith based and community service organizations with no takers) - side note - I did get traction in Bowie MD with Darius Street Preacher Foster through a USCCA connection from one of my instructor students and will be training the instructors for that program this weekend - they have already scheduled 4 Free NRA Home Firearm Safety classes in January.

On the subway and train back home, I reflected on an event in August hosted by Rep Scanlon (PA5) - there was a similar vibe - elected officials focused on policy (red flag laws, background checks, magazine capacity limits), while the people in the community were speaking about values (programs for kids, education, job training programs) - we can definitely connect on values with the community.