In the wake of the Parkland shooting, the Temple Law Democrats and the Black Law Students Association hosted a panel of diverse professionals to discuss their unique perspectives on gun violence and to address the critical issue of balancing gun rights and public safety in Philadelphia. Included on the panel were Temple Law professor and civil rights lawyer David Kairys, State Representative Jason Dawkins, and Marla Davis Bellamy, who is both the Director of CeaseFire and a Temple Law Alumni.

Professor Kairys kicked off the discussion by emphasizing the increasing accessibility and legality of guns in Philadelphia. He notes that in spite of gun regulation such as the Brady Act,  it seems “easier to obtain a handgun than a textbook.” Along with the NRA’s financial and electoral might, Kairys cites cultural and political factors as prominent hindrances to gun control reform. The most notable of these cultural factors is that many Americans associate guns with freedom and liberty and believe that gun control is a wholly polarized issue. Kairys notes that this leads to an environment in which there’s a “tendency to demonize other perspectives.”

Representative Dawkins also addressed the pervasive pattern of gun accessibility in Philadelphia. He noted that in conversations of gun violence it often goes unaddressed that homicide rates are higher in impoverished communities where agencies are underfunded. Like many native Philadelphians, Dawkins has lost lost friends and family to “the epidemic of gun violence.” He detailed several anecdotes that demonstrate how guns become a way for youth in these communities to raise respect and status when they lack “safe spaces.”  Dawkins asserted that gun violence is ingrained in their lifestyle and so to tackle it policymakers must tackle other social issues, such as drug prevalence, bullying and gentrification.

Director Bellamy delved further into the understanding of gun possession and violence as a “learned behavior.” CeaseFire is a multinational organization that hires returning citizens as ‘credible messengers.’ The messengers mentor young people from cities with a high crime rate and steer them away from a lifestyle riddled with gun violence. With a gun homicide rate higher than that of New York City, Philadelphia serves as a prime city for this program. As former Chief of Staff for the Philadelphia Department of Health, Bellamy believes gun violence translates into a major public health concern and one for which resources are not easily accessible. Additionally, Bellamy emphasized the significant impact that voting can have on this issue.

The panelists urged those who are eager to get involved to contact their legislator, because hearing concerns from constituents often increases the issue’s level of  priority.

~ Amy Dean, Staff Writer