In an effort to reduce gun violence and bring awareness to a grave epidemic, the Black Political Empowerment Project/ Coalition Against Violence in collaboration with the Pittsburgh Interfaith Impact Network and CeaseFirePA, a statewide gun violence prevention organization, united to hold a regional “Gun Violence Reduction Sunday” this past weekend.
Last week, the collaborative unit sent letters to more than 200 pastors of various churches in the Pittsburgh region, asking them to participate in the April 10 event to bring awareness to gun violence and a need for reform through a litany that was included for pastors to use during their Sunday services and a petition that the organizations were asking members of the various congregations to sign.
“We call upon congregations across the Pittsburgh region to dedicate their services to the mission of reducing gun violence by encouraging their members to organize, advocate and make their voices heard,” Tim Stevens, chairman of B-PEP said in a statement during a press conference held on April 4. “We are calling upon each and every church member to sign the individualized petition to ask our state and federal governments to fix the broken national background check system. It is time to ‘close the gaps!’”
Since April 8 there have been 24 homicides and countless shootings in Allegheny County and 20 of those homicides were Black men and women.
“Our goal is to have the loop holes in the gun legislation filled so that those who shouldn’t have guns (do not get a hold of them). We need to stop the flow of illegal guns.”
With many churches in the Pittsburgh area in the midst of Lenten season for Easter and getting ready to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Stevens said this is a good time for the initiative to resurrect the community against this important issue.
He said that it’s important for the churches and their leaders to get involved because, “The church and ministers collectively still have the greatest impact and direct contact with the Black community on a weekly basis.”
Reverend Glenn G. Grayson Sr., pastor of Wesley Center AMEZ Church, former president of PIIN and a victim of gun violence, said it’s important for churches to get involved because, “It’s our children who are dying. They have mothers, aunts, sisters and most are connected to the Church. The suffering continues and it’s a no win situation. The Black church should be vigilant.”
In October 2010, Rev. Grayson and his wife lost their son, Jeron, when he was home visiting from college and was killed at an off campus party at California University, when several individuals were denied access. Rev. Grayson said his son’s accused killer used an illegal gun.
While April 10 was named “Gun Violence Reduction Sunday,” the organizations are asking that those churches who could not participate last Sunday use the next upcoming Sundays to participate by getting members to sign a personalized petition that asks for stronger legislation for guns.
Jana Finder, the Western Pennsylvania coordinator for CeaseFirePA said, “Our purpose is to give the community a voice in Harrisburg and Washington, D.C. The petition is about asking state and federal legislators to fix the broken background check.”
CeaseFirePA, is a gun violence prevention organization dedicated to reducing and preventing gun violence through education and advocacy in communities across the state.
Along with the petitions, there will be a forum hosted by CeaseFirePA on April 30, which is the weekend of the National Riffle Association’s convention here in Pittsburgh at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center, to honor local victims of gun violence and to discuss possible solutions to reduce access to illegal handguns. “We chose this weekend because it is the weekend of the NRA convention in Pittsburgh and it is an opportunity for locals in Pittsburgh to get together and share their stories of gun violence,” said Finder. “We want the NRA to know what people of Pittsburgh think about the gun legislation. We (at CeaseFirePA) are not against responsible handgun ownership, such as for sportsman and hunters.”
But it’s not just hunters and sportsman that are getting a hold of the guns, especially illegal ones.
Some of the concerns to be discussed at the forum are responsible reforms to legislation, such as having a law where individuals must report lost or stolen guns to police, which is an ordinance the city of Pittsburgh already has in place. In the city of Pittsburgh, individuals have 24 hours to report a lost or stolen gun, if they fail they can face fines and in repeated cases, fines and jail time. “This will target individuals who are purchasing guns for people who can not pass the background check,” said Finder.
While an individual from the city of Pittsburgh Firearms Tracking division did not respond in time with the most common form of gun trafficking, one of the most recognized forms, especially in the Black community, is having a significant other or friend who can pass a background check purchase a gun for a individual who cannot pass a check because of reasons such as being underage or having a criminal record.
“I do not know how it happens (guns getting into the community). But too many people underage are walking around with these guns,” Rev. Grayson said. “I’ve heard that people use other people such as girlfriends or friends to buy them or people come from the suburbs to buy drugs in exchange for their parents’ gun.”
Finder said other concerns to be discussed at the forum are fixing the background check, which includes asking Pennsylvania legislators to start providing records of mental health and drug crimes to the FBI and to require a check for every gun sale that includes gun shows too. Also, there will be a discussion on the closing of the Concealed Carry Loophole. Finder said currently under the loophole, individuals who are denied permits to carry a concealed gun, are obtaining permits from other states, mainly Florida, and then carrying them in Pennsylvania. Their suggested solution is making a legislation that closes the loophole and making it unlawful to carry or conceal a gun if they have been denied a permit from the state of Pennsylvania, no matter what state their permit comes from.
She said that they want the leadership of the NRA to hear that there are individuals slipping through the cracks of background checks and trafficking guns.”
While there are several other community groups signed up to participate in the forum, Finder says she welcomes anyone interested.
For more information on the petition or the forum, contact Finder at firstname.lastname@example.org