In memory of gun homicide victims throughout Delaware County between 2009-2014, a temporary memorial was erected by the Chester/Delaware County Chapter of Heeding God’s Call (HGC) last Saturday. On the front lawn of Chester Eastside Ministries, along 9th St. in Chester, 145 t-shirts bearing the names of the county’s victims stood as a somber reminder of the toll that gun violence has taken across the county; Chester City being the most impacted.
“There were 29 (t-shirts) that I had to cry through, pause, get up and stop because they were all under the age of 19 years-old,” said Anita Littleton, pastor of Chester’s Refuge in Christ Church. She described having to write out the names of victims on each shirt and the overwhelming impact it had emotionally. “Chester City, it is past time for a change,” she said.
Family members, friends and supportive residents gathered Sunday evening, along the sidewalk, spilling into the street as they sang songs of hope and recited prayers together. Cars stopped and periodically a group of people would exit and join the crowd, embracing familiar persons.
“He died breaking up a fight,” said Sandra Brown. Her son, Emerson Price, III, died at 21 years-old trying to make peace in 2010. “When it was all over, the boy came back, shook my son’s hand and shot him down; like he was nothing.”
Brown said she is coping because of her family’s support. She has waited for years to finally have her son’s case reach court.
“I’ve been waiting for three years. Three whole years for somebody to hear my son,” said Brown, her eyes looking into the distance as she spoke. “It’s horrible because it’s not even adults buying guns; it’s kids buying guns. My son was killed at 21 years-old with two children left behind. I live this nightmare every night.”
Heeding God’s Call is a faith-based organization working to prevent gun violence. Currently, they’re preparing to march from Chester to the county seat in Media to push for universal background checks.
“All the stats in the world cannot measure up to what they have put out here on the lawn of Chester Eastside Ministries,” said Terry Rumsey, co-chair of Delaware County United for Sensible Gun Policy. “This will remind each and every person who drives by, and all the political officials, of what we need to do going into the future.”
The HGC Delaware County Chapter has gone beyond just pushing for legislation, it protests outside of local gun shops that refuse to sign, what they call, a “code of conduct” pledge that asks gun shops to take 10 steps to prevent the straw purchasing of guns in their shops. The steps include “videotaping the point of sale for all firearms transactions” and “employee background checks.”
“Most of these crimes were committed with illegally purchased guns,” explained Frances Stier, of the Wallingford Ohev Shalom synagogue. “What happens very commonly is that because Pennsylvania laws are pretty lax, someone who can’t pass a background check will find someone who can pass a background check.”
Stier explained that a “clean” individual will then purchase guns for the “criminal.” Straw purchasing also allows for a criminal to obtain a gun that is not “technically” traceable once they sell it to another criminal or underage person.
“Most gun (stores) will not accept a (straw purchase) sale like that, but a very few bad apple store keepers will turn their heads the other way, take the clean person’s ID and run the check,” said Stier. “The money is paid and they walk out the door.”