Following a march from Chester to Media Saturday, gun control advocates discussed House Bill 1010, sponsored by Bucks County state Rep. Steven J. Santarsiero (D-31). The bill seeks to change state law to force all gun sales to be conducted in front of a licensed importer, manufacturer, dealer, or county sheriff and all buyers subject to background checks. Currently, only sales of short-barreled firearms are affected by the law.
Victims of gun violence also shared their stories of losing loved ones, shared inspirational poems and promised to keep fighting for stronger gun laws.
“We have to stop the access of guns getting on the streets. We have to contact our elected officials,” said Movita Johnson-Harrell, a mother who lost her son, Charles Johnson, to gun violence in Philadelphia. “We need legislation for safe (and) sensible gun laws.”
Days before the rally, in Chester, gun control advocates were pushing for gun shop owners to sign, what they called, a community friendly Code of Conduct. With that, gun shop owners would pledge to practice 10 steps to prevent straw purchasing of guns in their stores. The steps include “videotaping the point of sale for all firearms transactions” and performing “employee background checks.”
Not everybody agreed. “What Code of Conduct? I am licensed by the federal government and by the state of Pennsylvania. I don’t need to be on their Code of Conduct,” said a woman at Miller’s Sporting Goods in Linwood who declined to give her name, but said she owned the store. “They have no right to ask me to sign something,” she said.
“This is my business. This is what I do to make a living and I try very hard not to let anything go through here in a bad manner. You can’t always tell,” she continued.
Last Wednesday, about nine protesters, all members of Heeding God’s Call (HGC), held signs urging the end of straw purchasing of guns. Straw purchasing is when legitimate buyers buy guns for people who, on their own, could not pass a background check, usually because of prior criminal records. Guns bought that way are usually traced to gun-related violent crime.
“Sign the code, Mr. Miller,” read one sign. “Stop selling to straw buyers and traffickers.”
“Since (our protest is) faith-based, we refer to it as witnessing,” explained Heeding God’s Call Executive Director Bryan Miller (no relation to the gun shop). “There are at least two cases currently in the news of this (store) selling guns to straw buyers who then resold the guns; that’s what we want to stop.”
Last year, a 26 year-old Montgomery County woman was accused of straw purchasing two handguns in Delaware County. One of the guns, a 9mm Walther handgun, came from Miller’s Sporting Goods. When asked about that, the woman at Miller’s said, “Do you see ‘straw purchase’ written on my face? And I don’t see it on anyone else’s face either. What a person does with something after they’ve left my store, I have no control over,” said the woman. “It’s like buying a car off the lot and driving it through a (playground) of children. You can not tell what someone is going to do with something. You don’t know what’s in a person’s mind.”
She said good people can get coerced or bullied into giving up a gun to someone who might hurt them and that guns can be stolen. She acknowledged that straw-purchasing does happen, but said there is no guaranteed way of knowing. She feels signing the Code of Conduct is a non-issue and argues the shop already does its duty to keep criminals from getting guns.
“I do understand and this is why I’m watching,” she said. “Whenever I do come across something, I’m the first one to call ATF (the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) and let them know there’s an issue,” she added. “I have called CID (Delaware County Criminal Investigations Division). I have called Chester police. I have called Trainer police whenever there is a suspicion. Things happen.”
Outside the gunshop, Elaine Wasekanes, a founding member of HGC, said signing the code and videotaping sales transactions should not be a problem for Miller’s.
“There have been straw purchases traced to this store,” she said. “These guns have absolutely 100 percent been traced to this store. If it’s not an issue, then adopt the code and we’ll go someplace else. There are plenty of other gun shops not following the Code of Conduct that we can spend our time at.”
“They don’t know what they’re talking about,” said the store clerk.