Philadelphia Yearly Meeting

Minute on Handgun Violence Prevention in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Interim Meeting, Dec-4-2008

Background: Philadelphia Yearly Meeting has received copies of a resolution passed by the 225th Convention of the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania and directed to the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives (its leadership and Judiciary Committee), the State Senate (and its leadership), and the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This resolution was aimed at addressing issues of handgun violence across Pennsylvania. The concern was raised because handgun violence is a problem that seriously injures and kills community members, but crosses municipal boundaries and is legislated at the state level.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is one of three historic peace churches sponsoring a national ecumenical peace gathering in January 13-17, 2009, called Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace. The last day, January 17, is a Delaware Valley area witness for handgun violence prevention in the City of Philadelphia. The concern is to inspire gun shop owners to adopt a code of conduct for sale of handguns.

Last year the City of Philadelphia suffered nearly 400 homicides, the vast majority by handguns. Harrisburg’s per capita homicide rate exceeds Philadelphia’s and violence is exploding in neighborhoods in Pittsburgh. Cities like Reading, York, Scranton, Allentown, Easton, Erie and others are also suffering high and increasing levels of handgun violence. Mention of the name Nickel Mines reminds us that this violence is not limited by the size of any municipality in the state.

Of guns recovered from crime in Philadelphia and traced by the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), 76% were purchased legally in the Commonwealth, yet 81% of these traced handguns were in the hands of some one other than the owner when the crime was committed. In Pittsburgh, the corresponding figures are 81% and 91%.

Illegal handguns are easily and cheaply available in the Commonwealth. The linchpin of illegal handgun distribution in the Commonwealth is “straw purchasing,” by which technically eligible persons buy multiple handguns on behalf of professional gun traffickers, who in turn sell to felons, perpetrators of violence. Handguns are sold from the trunks of automobiles to drug dealers and gang members. The “One Handgun a Month” and the “Lost or Stolen Reporting Requirement” would decrease availability of illegal handguns and increase costs, substantially reducing access to illegal handguns without injury to legitimate handgun owners. This has been seen in Virginia, Maryland, California and New Jersey.

Concern for justice and peace are long standing concerns of the Religious Society of Friends. Handgun violence is addressed both by our historic Peace Testimony speaking against “fighting with outward weapons” and by numerous biblical and religious texts such as Jesus calling us to be peacemakers, saying, “Blessed are the Peace Makers, for they shall be called children of God.” We also uphold the commandment - thou shall not kill.

In Philadelphia and throughout Pennsylvania, we are losing too many young people, both as victims and perpetrators. Too many families, again, of both victims and perpetrators, are thrown into grief by handgun violence. In too many congregations and communities, we have buried children and sought to bring the comfort of God’s peace to families wracked by this epidemic of violence and death.

This minute allows us as Friends the chance to stand against this epidemic of deaths faced by too many who are sisters and brothers to us all.

Minute:

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting supports the witness for handgun violence prevention planned for January 17, 2009 with its emphasis on persuading gun shops owners to adopt the “responsible firearms retailer partnership: a 10-point voluntary code” for sale of handguns.

Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends asks the Pennsylvania State House of Representatives (its leadership and Judiciary Committee), the State Senate (and its leadership), and the Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to enact and sign legislation to reduce handgun violence in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. This legislation is commonly known as the Lost or Stolen Reporting Requirement and the One Handgun a Month bills.

We encourage Monthly and Quarterly Meetings to make available educational materials to their members and committees, and encourage to consider how they might wage a vigorous effort for successful passage of the Lost or Stolen Reporting Requirement and the One Handgun a Month bills in the commonwealth. We encourage our Monthly and Quarterly Meetings to support and to participate in the Saturday, January 17 witness for gun violence protection.

We ask the Clerk of Yearly Meeting and General Secretary to communicate this Minute with regard to gun violence prevention to the Governor and leadership of the

Pennsylvania legislature. We propose the same Minute be communicated to other denominations and faiths in Pennsylvania, in order to seek joint efforts by people of all faith traditions to reduce the gun violence that is suffered by all in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

REFERENCES:

Most recent comprehensive trace info (2000) for guns recovered from crime in

Philadelphia and Pittsburgh:

http://www.atf.gov/firearms/ycgii/2000/cityreports/philadelphia.pdf

http://www.atf.gov/firearms/ycgii/2000/cityreports/pittsburgh.pdf

Most recent statewide trace info (2007) for guns recovered from crime in Pennsylvania:

http://www.atf.gov/firearms/trace_data/2007/pennsylvania07.pdf

Most recent statewide trace info (2007) for guns recovered from crime in New Jersey and Delaware:

http://www.atf.gov/firearms/trace_data/2007/newjersey07.pdf

http://www.atf.gov/firearms/trace_data/2007/delaware07.pdf

Information about Heeding God’s Call: A Gathering on Peace

http://www.peacegathering2009.org

Information about the Mayors coalition

http://www.mayorsagainstillegalguns.org/html/home/home.shtml