As we head towards the holidays and a new year, far too many families in Philadelphia will have empty seats at their dinner tables. News reports indicate that more than 110 teens and children have been hit by gunfire in Philadelphia in 2019. These children and teens have been shot walking home from school, standing on the street, attending sporting events and practices, participating in average, day-to-day activities. The toll of daily gun violence is having a devastating effect on families. The deadly year in Philadelphia is not unique, but it should never be accepted as normal.
Despite the fact that 100 Americans are killed every single day in this country and gun homicide overwhelmingly affects communities of color, these deaths rarely make the national news. They rarely get mentioned outside of the local papers. These deaths are marked with small memorials, not huge vigils or viral hashtags. Community gun violence is an unspoken epidemic that many in America — including many of those elected to public office — choose to look away from.
Philadelphia and the entire state of Pennsylvania need action at the state and federal level to address these tragic deaths. So far their state has refused to even hold hearings on gun violence prevention measures. At the federal level, gun violence prevention measures that could make a difference in Pennsylvania have been stymied by the Senate even though both of Pennsylvania’s senators in Washington — one Republican and one Democrat — support a stronger national background check system.
Gun violence prevention policy is an important and necessary step. But to create lasting change in communities like Philadelphia, we must also look beyond legislative solutions. Gun violence in impacted commuities is compounded by poverty, discrimination, and systemic inequities that are deeply ingrained. These social factors are both the root causes of gun violence and exacerbated by gun violence. Addressing these inequities is essential to this debate; policies that promote community health and programs that engage impacted communities can help prevent gun violence.
“We cannot ignore that thousands of Pennsylvanians die from gun violence every year,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf when he announced a new, multifaceted approach to address the gun violence epidemic through violence intervention programs, trainings, and a new special council to reduce gun violence. Philadelphia’s mayor has also taken action, announcing increased city resources for violence intervention programs and more funding for rapid response outreach. These are important steps, but they are just the beginning. Impacted communities need continued engagement and acknowledgement of the inequities that exist — from lawmakers, from local leaders, from neighbors, from advocacy groups.
Addressing the underlying social and economic inequalities that fuel gun violence is a multifaceted process. To begin this process, stakeholders need to invest in most impacted communities, by listening and amplifying their voices — and allowing those closest to the daily pain to be closest to the power. The bloodshed that we have seen in Philadelphia this year is horrific — but Philadelphia is far from the only city experiencing this epidemic. Gun violence plagues communities across the country — and we must do more to save lives. As 2020 approaches, we will continue our work engaging impacted communities, elected officials, and community leaders to ensure that families in Philadelphia — and across the country — do not have to experience the pain of losing their loved ones to community gun violence.