For a number of local and statewide groups with home bases in Philly—CeaseFirePA, Education Voters of Pennsylvania, ACTION United—last week’s elections were tragic. But that’s not to say they don’t have a plan to deal with the red [state] menace.
“The election was awful,” says Joe Grace, executive director of CeaseFirePA. “For anybody with a progressive pulse in their body in the United States, it didn’t work out real well. But you fight on.”
CeaseFirePA is a self-proclaimed “gun-violence prevention organization” based out of Center City whose core initiatives include closing the “Florida Loophole,” which allows Pa. residents to apply for a carry permit in Fla. that can be used here. The group also requires that lost or stolen handguns be reported, and several other so-called “common sense” initiatives that the group claims are neither “pro-gun or anti-gun.” With the election of NRA-backed Tom Corbett and a Republican Legislature, Grace says it’s going to be harder to advance their policies.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to be a very loud and energetic watchdog,” he says. “We’re not going to stand down to the gun lobby and the extremists in the gun lobby. We’re going to continue having no issue with hunters or sportsmen or law-abiding citizens.”
Grace pauses when asked about Corbett’s assertion that the loophole doesn’t exist. “I’m really trying to think of the right words so I don’t give you a flippant response,” he says. “We disagree with the governor-elect. The facts show otherwise.”
Councilman Darrell Clarke obviously agrees, because on Oct. 28 he proposed a bill that would close the loophole, at least in Philly. Of course, it would have to go through Harrisburg first. “You’ve got to understand,” Clarke says, “this is an uphill strategy, especially as it pertains to getting it to Harrisburg. The reality is, this particular measure will probably end up in court, similar to [past local Philadelphia gun-law bills]. I believe the only way to get it passed is through the judicial system.”
“We appreciate what Councilman Clarke is trying to do,” Grace says. “We support his agenda … but when it comes to getting illegal guns off the street, I think it’s a state issue.”
An issue it’s not actively dealing with, as there’s a stalled piece of legislation—introduced by state Rep. Bryan Lentz—in the Legislature that would close the loophole.
“My bill … makes sure that people who are prone to violence don’t abuse a technicality in the law to harm others,” Lentz said last month. “Furthermore, if we are going to expand a person’s right to use lethal force on another human being, then we better make sure they should be carrying a weapon in the first place.” Lentz isn’t returning to the Legislature, so it’s unlikely his bill will get past state Republicans—and certainly not past the governor-elect’s veto pen.
Education funding is a big deal in Pa., especially in Philly, and Corbett has a lot of ideas that aren’t going over well in certain circles. The Education Voters of Pennsylvania, a nonprofit that focuses on public education, is urging the governor-elect to continue with the state-funded Costing Out Study, which seeks to understand what it would cost for all students to attain Pa.’s academic standards. But Corbett isn’t willing to raise taxes or impose a severance tax on Marcellus Shale drilling to continue with the study.
“I think Mr. Corbett has made some generally positive comments about education,” says Education Voters executive director Susan Gobreski, “but we’d like to see a detailed plan.
“Bluntly, we hope to be able to work with the administration and hope the new governor will make education a priority for all Pennsylvania students and not get caught up in sort of trendy things that feel fun and easy to say,” she says.
Gobreski believes education can be advanced through the state Legislature—but only if Republicans have the guts: “We’re going to need legislators … who are going to need to strengthen their spine or have the public help them strengthen it. Legislators need to make it a priority to continue the drive to fairly and sufficiently fund what it takes to educate our children, and that’s their job, and if they think that job is too hard and that job can’t be done, then they should step down. They should say, ‘I’m not up for that. I can’t do it.’”
ACTION United, a low- and moderate-income community organization group with 35,000 members between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, also has concerns about the governor-elect’s education ideas.
Like Education Voters of Pennsylvania, ACTION United supports the current education funding method, which eases property tax burdens on lower-income Pennsylvanians. “If he’s going to do away with fair funding [the Costing Out study’s recommendations], that’s a huge problem,” says Craig Robbins, ACTION United executive director.
You may remember that back in March, then-Attorney General Corbett joined a 14-state coalition to sue the Obama administration over its signing of the Affordable Health Care For America Act. He did so “to protect the citizens of Pennsylvania whose rights will be violated when health-care reform is signed into law.”