WILMINGTON — U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, U.S. Sen. Tom Carper and Attorney General Kathy Jennings were among those in attendance for the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act Roundtable at Delaware Technical Community College’s George Campus on Tuesday.
The roundtable included discussion regarding measures to curb gun violence at both the national and state level, how gun violence has impacted cities like Wilmington, and how the state can build off of successful gun-related legislation passed during the previous session.
Hosted by Delaware Coalition Against Gun Violence Executive Director Traci Manza Murphy, the roundtable also included Senate Majority Leader Bryan Townsend, D-Newark, Senate Majority Whip Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, D-Wilmington, Rep. David Bentz, D-Christiana, Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and several community advocates and stakeholders.
Easy access to firearms during a momentary crisis can lead to permanent tragedy, Ms. Murphy said, who added that firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death among American children. Every day, an average of 321 people are shot in America, and of that number, 111 of those succumb to their injuries, Ms. Murphy said. She said that while the gun industry and gun rights activists claim gun violence to be a necessary byproduct of freedom and circumstance, those at the roundtable disagreed. “Thoughts and prayers are not a strategy,” Ms. Murphy said.
Measures to curb gun violence at the national level were done in tandem with other states, according to Sen. Carper, who said a common agenda was discussed among lawmakers to tackle root causes of the issue, such as providing children with positive role models. He commended the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act for its wide range of accomplishments, such as closing the “boyfriend loophole,” implementing red flag laws, creating federal offenses for straw purchases, and increasing funding for mental health support in schools.
At the state level, Delaware’s lawmakers passed a package of gun bills during the previous legislative session that addressed a number of factors, similarly to the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. The package included legislation that banned the sale of assault weapons, raised the age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, strengthened background checks, limited high-capacity magazines, held gun manufacturers liable for reckless actions that lead to gun violence, and banned the use of devices that convert handguns into automatic weapons.
While Delaware’s elected officials helped pass extensive gun-related legislation at the national and state level, Sen. Carper said he wanted the First State to continue being first in passing landmark legislation.
“I wanted us to be first for everything, everything good, and one of those things that we focused on was how do we strengthen families, which are the basic building blocks of our society. It’s great to see that there’s still a commitment to doing that, making sure kids are going to be raised by parents who are anxious to make sure their children are going to be successful,” Sen. Carper said. “It’s not just the federal government, not just the state government, or the county. It’s our nonprofits, our medical community, everyone working together, and that’s really encouraging.”
While strides have been made, Rep. Blunt Rochester said it is time to “keep the heat on.” She said the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was one of the highlights of her political career and she was proud of that work, but added that she was eager to hear from those at the roundtable on how lawmakers can continue building off of their success because there is still work to be done.
“Part of this conversation is to talk about what has been achieved,” Rep. Blunt Rochester said. “We can’t let the sense of urgency go because we’ve had some wins. So that, to me, is what today is about. It’s about celebrating what we’ve achieved. It’s about making sure that we understand what has happened, and what still needs to be done.”
One of the measures mentioned during the roundtable discussion was the permit-to-purchase bill that was not passed during the 151st General Assembly. Ms. Jennings said she, alongside Sen. Townsend and Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark, has been pushing for the measure for years to no avail. The bill would add accountability to the process of purchasing a firearm, specifically handguns, by requiring a permit to purchase, as well as firearm and safety training.
Though the bill failed to receive a full chamber vote in the House after passing in the Senate, Sen. Townsend said House leadership has promised to engage differently regarding the bill moving forward.
Ms. Jennings said the measure is much needed, as states with similar legislation have seen drastic decreases in gun homicides and gun suicides.
“This is common sense. This works and we need to pass it. It’s expensive because there is a process and we want to listen to the other side of it and make sure that if there are reasonable accommodations that we can make, they don’t interfere with the purpose of it. But we were so close and we cannot give up now,” Ms. Jennings said.
Mayor Purzycki said that having conversations about how the city can get guns off of its streets is very important, stating that unlike himself, most in attendance do not measure their everyday success by kids not getting shot. City of Wilmington Police Chief Robert Tracy, who was also in attendance, said the city’s crime is committed by a small percentage of its population and that the city has prioritized breaking the dynamic of those individuals who go on to live a life of crime.
“Nothing matters until we start to understand as a society where we failed young families and young kids that they resolve conflict and frustration with the most unspeakable violence, and they’re almost unmoved by it. That’s our challenge,” Mayor Purzycki said.
While strides were made in both Dover and Washington, D.C., Rep. Blunt Rochester emphasized that all in attendance needed to “keep the heat on” to decrease gun violence throughout the country.
Ms. Jennings, like Rep. Blunt Rochester, emphasized the importance of continuously addressing issues related to gun violence, nationally and here in Delaware.
“It really does take a village. We’ve got a village, this village called Delaware,” Ms. Jennings said. “It is just phenomenal the work we can get done when we all come together.”