Twenty years after Columbine, much has changed, much has not

Today I joined Jami Amo, a Willow Grove resident and gun safety activist; state Sen. Art Haywood; and Montgomery County Commissioner Val Arkoosh at a Jenkintown event hosted by CeaseFirePA, Moms Demand Action and Orange Wave to mark the 20th anniversary of the horrific Columbine High School massacre on April 20, 1999. Amo (pictured) is a survivor of that shooting.

Twenty years ago, I was a teacher. I taught high school history for 35 years before joining the legislature. I know the halls and classrooms of high schools. I know how schools operate. And I can imagine exactly how Amo, her fellow students and her teachers felt at Columbine.

On that day -- April 20, 1999 -- my life and the lives of all of us in public education changed. The Columbine massacre hit us like 9/11 hit most Americans. It is a date that separates all that came before and all that was to come after. But it is also a date after which not enough has changed in terms of comprehensive gun safety legislation.

I find that almost incomprehensible. One of the reasons I became a legislator was to fight for public schools, teachers and our young people. But it is our young people -- not the legislators with whom I share the House Floor in Harrisburg -- who have lately been leading the way on this issue.

They are cutting through the noise surrounding gun ownership in America, and they are getting results.

According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 67 new gun safety laws were enacted last year in 26 states and Washington, D.C. With the passage of House Bill 2060, which strengthened the commonwealth’s Protection from Abuse Act, last fall, Pennsylvania was one of them.

But it isn’t enough. U.S. children and teens are still 17 times more likely to die from gun violence than their peers in other high-income countries. Seventeen percent of our 14- to 17-year-olds have been exposed to gun violence.

We cannot accept school shootings as the new normal. We can and must pass legislation to enact lifesaving gun safety laws including:

  • A background check requirement for all firearm sales.
  • Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms.
  • A ban on the sale of accelerated trigger activators like bump stocks.
  • Improved reporting of mental health records to the national check system.
  • A ban on the possession, purchase, transfer, use, or manufacture of an assault weapon.

I cannot think of a better way to mark the 20th anniversary of the shooting at Columbine High School, can you? #NeverAgain