US Senator Bob Casey (D-Pennsylvania) joined a group of middle and high school students to discuss ways to address the gun violence crisis.
“The reason I’m inspired by your generation is because you’re impacting us right now,” Casey told students during a Monday, June 6 panel discussion at Temple University. “You push us to adopt measures to reduce gun violence.”
Temple University President Jason Wingard was on hand to greet the students.
“Today, we are so thrilled to have Senator Casey welcome you all to talk about youth violence,” he said. “It’s an epidemic that continues to plague our city and it’s an epidemic where you all have a lot of input to help us make policy decisions in Harrisburg and policy decisions in Philadelphia.”
Casey spoke about the importance of the Senate voting on common-sense laws such as background checks and extreme risk protection bills.
Cayla Waddington, a Grade 10 student at Mathematics, Civics and Sciences Charter School, asked why extreme risk protection orders are often aimed at people with mental health issues.
“I think it would be more effective if emergency risk protection orders weren’t just for people with mental health issues, but rather for people who show signs of someone who is on the verge of to do something wrong,” Waddington said, noting some of the recent mass shooters posted online what they were planning to do.
Casey agreed that the measure should go beyond treating someone who has a documented mental health problem.
“It should also be intended to encompass people who have expressed a willingness to engage in violence, people who have made threats or people who have said so quite clearly,” Casey said.
Waddington is a student adviser for the Enough is Enough Students Against Gun Violence campaign. Enough is Enough recently conducted a gun violence survey of 1,300 students in grades seven through 12.
“We went out and talked to the students about what our students think is the problem,” Waddington explained. “What our students think would solve the problem is better gun laws and a greater focus on mental health.”
George Lane, who will be a second year at Freedom Academy Charter School, said 95% of students surveyed could not name a resource in their community where they could go to talk about gun violence.
In response, Casey pointed to a bill he is working on with U.S. Representative Dwight Evans (D-Pennsylvania) that would help connect victims of gun violence with resources.
“We often talk about those who were killed and rightly so, but we stop talking about the people who were injured,” Casey said. “A lot of times, these people’s lives are devastated.”
He said gunshot wounds have left people unable to work or forced to incur expenses to convert their homes because they are disabled.
“Our bill would create an advisory council at the federal level to get this information out to people,” Casey said.
“I think it should happen at all levels where people get information not just about where you would go if you were a victim of gun violence, but where if you were a member of the community you would go to have access to these anti-violence programs.
Dayvion Jackson, an 11th grader at Imhotep Institute Charter High School, noted that 455 of 1,300 students surveyed said they had nothing to do in their neighborhood. He asked Casey how he could help give these 455 students something they can do.
“I don’t think there’s anything I’m saying right now that would directly relate to the issue you’ve raised from a federal perspective, unless the community comes together in a particular neighborhood and says we want to keep this facility open or this facility open and to do that we need the extra money and we’re going to go to the feds to get it,” Casey said in response.
Jackson called for more free neighborhood programs and resources to help young people stay engaged in positive activities.
“As shooters and victims of gun violence get younger and younger, I feel like this is something that would help them,” Jackson said. “Having something to do would get them off their corner, off their block and away from the people they look up to who aren’t doing well.”
As the city council debates this year’s budget, council member Isaiah Thomas said he will seek more funding to extend the hours of operation at the city’s recreation centers.
“One of the things I’ve been advocating for is having recreation centers open on weekends and more free programs for young people in the city of Philadelphia,” Thomas said.
“We will ask our state and federal partners for more resources to address these issues.”