Locals rally to show support for survivors

PAT CROSSLEYSun-Gazette Correspondent Grandmother Verna Caruso came out in the rain to show her support for ending gun violence. Caruso said she was there for her grandchildren in hopes that they wouldn’t have to deal with someone coming into their school with a gun.

The solemn sound of a bell rang out as about 35 people listened while the names of the 17 people killed in the school shooting at Parkland, Florida, last week were read at the beginning of a rally on The Green at Williamsport mid-day Saturday.

Organized by the Lycoming County Progressives, the rally was part of the “Enough is Enough” rallies that have been going on across the country since the incident occurred. Members of the crowd came armed with umbrellas and signs as they braved the rain to show their solidarity with the students who suffered through the horrific tragedy.

“Today is about enough,” Dwayne Heisler, from the Pennsylvania Democratic State Committee, said.

Heisler said he previously had thought that, after one of the many acts of gun violence that had come before the most recent one, but said that this time it seems as if there is a difference.

“Something feels different this time. I think what feels different is the kids,” he said. “The kids that we’ve seen in real time standing up for themselves and their friends. When you go through something like this — and I can’t imagine the horror of what they saw and what they heard and being huddled in a closet — it does something to you. We saw in real time how these kids decided that this was not acceptable, and they are going to make a difference, and they’re continuing to make a difference.

“And that’s what feels so different. We saw them, in real time, changing into activists. This happened to them. The more successful they get, the more people will tell them that they can’t do what they’re doing,” he added.

Verna Caruso, a grandmother, stated simply why she was at the rally: “The kids,” referring to her grandchildren who still are in school.

“I want them to go to school and feel safe and not have to worry about somebody coming in with a gun. That’s why I’m here,” she said.

Speakers at the rally also talked about possible solutions to the problem of gun violence.

One of the featured speakers, Shari Jacobson, who is with the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, told the group about a bill in the state Legislature that would deal with gun-related violence in domestic abuse situations.

Senate Bill 501 already has been drafted with bipartisan support and would curb loopholes in the state’s current laws, she said.

Under the bill, the time in which someone convicted of domestic abuse would have to relinquish any firearms would be lessened from the current 60 days they have now.

“This has been shown to reduce homicide by gun in domestic violence,” Jacobson said.

Another portion of the bill guarantees that the person relinquishing the gun would have to give it to a recognized authority such as a sheriff or licensed gun dealer. The bill also states that if people have final protection from abuse orders, they must give up their guns, an action which currently is at the discretion of judges.

Jacobson said in states where similar laws have been passed, the rate of homicide by gun has gone down.

“The best thing we could do right now to keep Pennsylvania children safe from gun violence is to go with this known legislation,” she said.

She urged the crowd to contact their local legislators to tell them to push the bill, which has been in the judiciary committee for over a year, forward.

One member of the crowd, Alexa Wolfe, an educator, responded to one of the possible solutions to the problem that has been floated by the president, that of arming teachers with weapons in the schools.

“My biggest thing is I didn’t get into this profession to protect students from guns. I’m a fairly new teacher so I try to think about this a lot. With all the violence that’s going on in the world today, I personally believe that bringing more guns into the schools will not solve the problem, but would be a more intimidating factor for the students,” she said.

When asked if he felt raising the age for purchasing guns is a viable solution, Mike Heyd, one of the organizers of the rally, said he didn’t really think that would work.

“Personally, I don’t think that’s going to be very effective,” he said. “Someone who is dangerously crazy at 18 is going to be dangerously crazy at 21, most likely.”

His wife, Glenda, weighed in on the problem stemming from the availability of assault weapons, like the one used in the Florida shootings and the high-capacity ammunition cartridges that are used.

“I don’t think guns should be banned,” she said. “We’re in Lycoming County; we’re all hunters. I eat venison. Nobody’s going to come and take our guns, but nobody needs an AR-15 to shoot their deer.”

Her husband said he does see hope for the future in terms of banning assault weapons.

“I don’t think with the current Republican control of Congress and the presidency that we can pass a ban on assault weapons right now,” he said, “but I think we can move in that direction. I think we are moving in that direction. There are a lot of young people in Parkland and elsewhere who are going to be voting very soon. I think you can change the complexion of the government in Washington and then I think we can do it.”