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Guns Represent 'Most Significant Public-Safety Issue'
"This is an enraged constituency," declared Lynn Honickman of the citizens of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. "Why aren't our representatives voting for the will of the people? Are they all under the thumbs of the NRA [National Rifle Association]?"
"This has become an absolute epidemic of the worst kind," announced Honickman, 71, founder of Moms Against Guns, a new organization. "I can walk into a gun store and buy 50 guns. You can get as many as you want and then you can sell them to someone else, who can sell them to kids."
Honickman, who has supported both Jewish and secular causes, added that she's not out to do away with the Second Amendment, and is only trying to make it harder for criminals and children to get their hands on deadly weapons.
Because of all the politics involved, she is supporting Moms Against Guns by means of private funds and not via the nonprofit Honickman Foundation.
Why mothers, specifically?
She said the reason is because children have been disproportionately affected by gun violence, and because history shows that social and political change often starts with women, although she insists that the group is really about energizing citizens of all ages.
Primarily, the group is hoping to use the Internet to collect 50,000 signatures via its Web site (www.momsagainstguns.org) for a petition that urges lawmakers to "work together to enact new laws and update current laws to better protect our children from guns that are illegal and used improperly."
So far, they've gathered a bit more than 3,000, and you don't have to be a parent -- or even a female -- to sign on.
'Issue Crosses Party Lines'
Last month, Honickman organized a rally in Philadelphia's Love Park, where several mothers who'd lost children or husbands to gun violence spoke out. District Attorney Lynne Abraham and Philip Goldsmith, a former managing director of the city who is now the volunteer chairman of Ceasefire PA, also delivered speeches.
Rabbi Andrea Merow of Beth Sholom Congregation in Elkins Park also addressed the crowd and is lending support to the cause.
Merow, a friend of Honickman's, sent out a letter to Beth Sholom members urging them to contact their elected officials and push for change.
"This issue really does cross party lines," said Merow, who argued that her support did not represent a leap into partisan politics, but instead was reflective of the Jewish ideal of saving lives. "And it's not just a Philadelphia problem. This crosses urban, suburban lines."
On Dec. 10, following a week in which shooting sprees in Iowa and Colorado claimed more than a dozen lives, a group of elected officials, police officers and gun-control advocates -- including Honickman and Goldsmith -- from across Pennsylvania sponsored an event in Harrisburg about the newsworthy subject.
Speakers called on the General Assembly to enact several bills that they argued would prevent handguns from getting to criminals -- and might then reduce the rate of violent crime in Philadelphia and in other statewide locales long considered hostile to any gun-control measures.
The Harrisburg rally came three weeks after Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell made a dramatic -- indeed, his first -- appearance before the House Judiciary Committee in order to advocate for the passage of three bills that supporters called "modest" -- basically, just a start.
One bill would institute a maximum of one handgun purchase per month per individual (two per married couple). That bill failed by a tally of 17 to 12, a vote that didn't entirely fall along party lines; some local GOP members supported it, while some rural Democrats opposed the measure.
Another bill would have allowed for municipalities, such as Philadelphia, to enact their own gun measures; it fell by a vote of 19 to 10. Currently, any laws relating to gun ownership are determined in Harrisburg.
A third bill would make it a crime to fail to report the loss or theft of a stolen firearm within 24 hours. That bill was tabled and should receive a vote at a later date.
But State Rep. Daylin Leach (D-District 149), a Judiciary Committee member who voted in favor of the first two bills, warned that change is a long way off.
"There are not the votes to pass even the most reasonable gun-safety measures," he said. "What will have to happen, there will have to be people who lose an election because they don't support gun-safety legislation. Lawmakers feel that if they oppose the NRA, they'll get hammered, and if they support the NRA, there will be no consequences."
The NRA's press office did not answer several requests for comment.
Stephen Miskin, a spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, argued that Pennsylvania's Constitution goes even further than the Second Amendment in protecting the rights of gun owners, and thus limits any attempts to restrict gun purchases.
"Every single member of the General Assembly, including the governor, took an oath to uphold the Constitution, not only of the United States, but of Pennsylvania," said Miskin, who added that the answer to the gun-crime problem lies in more funding for police departments and in strict enforcement of current laws.
While victory may not be imminent for gun-control advocates, many of them still feel that Rendell's recent public stance may prove significant in the long run.
"I don't go for this, 'Well, there is nothing I can do,' " said activist Lynn Honickman. "Well, what have you tried to do?"