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OP-ED: An opportunity to save lives from gun violence

The grandmother of 12, an usher at her church, shot and killed in the City of Washington while sitting on her front porch listening to music in broad daylight.

The Smith Township father of two, murdered while mowing his own lawn, fired upon by a combative neighbor who previously threatened him and his family with guns, ultimately triggering a SWAT standoff that terrified a quiet neighborhood.

A young artist, his mother’s only son, gunned down in Canton. A 29-year-old fatally shot in the parking lot of a Finleyville tavern after a bar fight escalated, his body later discovered on the side of the road. The 16-year-old who shot his stepfather in South Strabane, inflicting grave wounds with a stolen gun.

These are only a few of the devastating stories of the gun violence epidemic in Washington County, just in 2022. Each incident involves unique human struggles. But all are united by an undeniable fact: these tragedies would be less likely to happen if Pennsylvania had stronger gun safety laws.

This year, we have a unique opportunity in Pennsylvania to pass broadly popular and bipartisan action that will stem the tide of this violence. We cannot miss this opportunity. Lives are depending on it.

As an advocate with CeaseFirePA, the commonwealth’s gun violence prevention organization, I see firsthand the devastation wrought by this public health catastrophe. Every day, I confront the trauma caused by community-based violence that disproportionately impacts Black populations like the City of Washington’s. Too often, I comfort family members whose loved ones made the often lonely and impulsive decision to kill themselves with their gun – a crisis that most directly affects older white men in rural parts of Washington County. And I grapple with the same ever-present anxiety that all Americans now feel while in shopping centers, houses of worship, or schools – that the next mass shooter might strike, just like the horrible attack recently at a dance studio in Monterey Park, California.

One Pennsylvanian dies by gun violence every five hours, on average. We cannot continue living this way. And we don’t have to.

For the first time in 12 years, Pennsylvania is expected to soon have a gun safety majority in the state House of Representatives. They will work side by side with Gov. Josh Shapiro and Lt. Gov. Austin Davis – two champions for gun safety – to advance lifesaving policies that will make all our communities safer from every form of gun violence.

We can prevent many of the 900 firearm suicides in Pennsylvania each year by passing Extreme Risk Protection Order legislation, often called a “red flag law.” This uses due process and civil procedure to temporarily restrict someone’s access to a gun when they are a threat to themselves or others. Connecticut’s law was associated with a 14% reduction in firearm suicides. Polling shows that a broad, bipartisan majority of 80% of Pennsylvanians, including most gun owners, support this policy.

We can reduce the flow of illegal guns that fuel much of the violence in cities like Washington by enacting a basic law to require the reporting of lost and stolen firearms. One study found that these laws reduced traced illegal gun movement by 46% compared to states that do not have such laws.

And we can make it harder for the next mass shooter to get their hands on a weapon of war by closing a gap in our background check system that allows for the private sale of long guns without any vetting.

How can we do this? It’s going to take all citizens of Washington County – Republicans, Independents, and Democrats – coming together in the spirit of keeping each other safe. It’s going to require legislators who are willing to hear the bipartisan majorities of their constituents who support sensible solutions, and refusing to live in political fear of an extremist and out-of-touch minority that cares more about protecting unlimited access to guns than protecting people. It’s going to require honestly acknowledging the overwhelming body of evidence that shows how stronger state gun laws mean less gun violence, and accepting the longstanding legal tradition that these laws are entirely consistent with the Second Amendment and with responsible gun ownership.

But most of all, it’s going to require that every Washington County resident who supports these public safety solutions understand that their voice carries great power in our democracy – and to use that voice. Contact your legislators. Engage in dialogue with your family, friends, and neighbors. That’s how change happens. And we need change now, more than ever.

Will you join us in taking this opportunity to save lives from gun violence?

Josh Fleitman is the Western Pennsylvania manager for CeaseFirePA.

Mike Luckovich cartoon

OP-ED: Biden and Trump want a rematch, even if most Americans do not

America may not want a Trump-Biden rematch, but Donald Trump and Joe Biden sure do.

A CNN poll late last year showed that 6 in 10 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents want a different GOP nominee in 2024, and a roughly similar proportion of Democrats hope for a nominee other than Biden.

Not that either man is inclined to pay any attention.

Trump wants revenge against a president who humiliated him in 2020 and who, with an approval rating in the mid-40s, would seem ripe for the picking.

Biden wants to run against a persistently unpopular, controversy-plagued former president whom he beat once before and used to great effect as a foil in the 2022 midterms.

Trump’s best argument is that his policies were better than Biden’s.

Biden’s best argument is that he’s not Trump.

It’s the weirdest, and most dispiriting, symbiotic relationship in politics. It’s the career politician soaked in conventional politics versus the upstart developer with zero respect for rules. The establishmentarian versus the populist. Boring versus erratic. And ... unpopular versus unpopular, as well as, now that you mention it, old versus old.

If Biden stepped aside, Trump might feel a little less driven to run, whereas if Trump declined to run, Democrats would have to be much more nervous about how Biden would match up against a younger, less toxic opponent.

As it is, the weakness of each is a motivator and prop for the other.

Just consider: It’s probably a good rule of thumb not to run a presidential candidate who’s under federal investigation for mishandling classified documents.

But does that rule hold when your candidate could well be running against another candidate also under federal investigation for mishandling classified documents?

Such are the imponderables that a potential Biden-Trump rematch presents.

Both can point at the other and try to argue, in effect, “Hey, your special counsel investigation is much worse than my special counsel investigation.”

Trump tucked into this debate in his characteristic fashion. In a Truth Social post, he mocked Biden for having classified documents “on the damp floor” of his “flimsy, unlocked, and unsecured” garage, whereas Mar-a-Lago is “a highly secured facility.” (Of course, Biden famously insisted that his garage was locked – he has a classic Corvette to protect, after all).

Biden’s team and allies have made the opposite case that, in contrast to Trump, his mistakes were inadvertent and immediately reported to authorities.

Regardless of the merits, there’s no doubt that Biden’s possession of classified documents materially assists Trump in his case; it might save him from indictment.

By the same token, Trump’s possession of classified documents materially assists Biden in his case; the discovery of the documents in Biden’s various unsecure locations may be a fiasco, but not one as drawn out and legally fraught as the Mar-a-Lago drama.

It’s a little like both parties running candidates in the 1972 campaign who had authorized break-ins, or in a 1980 campaign who had presided over double-digit inflation.

Now, it’s entirely possible that the second season of Trump versus Biden never makes it to production. Despite all signs indicating that he wants to run again, Biden might pull up short because he doesn’t feel up for it. For his part, Trump has a significant chance of winning the Republican nomination, yet it isn’t a gimme, and it shouldn’t help him that Biden and the Democrats so obviously want to run against him, just as they wanted to run against so many of his acolytes last November.

If the prospect of returning to 2020 is unappealing, look on the bright side: We never really left.

Trump has never let us forget that he lost to Biden (although he prefers to refer to it as getting the election stolen from him), while Biden has never let us forget that Trump is waiting in the wings.

Despite their enmity, both men want and need each other politically, whether that’s what the country is interested in or deserves, or not.

Rich Lowry is on Twitter @RichLowry.