RAC-PA, CeaseFirePA promote ‘common sense’ gun laws
'Deadly by Design'Video shares first-person accounts of gun violence victims

RAC-PA, CeaseFirePA promote ‘common sense’ gun laws

Organizations team with Temple Emanuel of South Hills and Temple Sinai

CeaseFirePA has teamed with Temple Emanuel of South Hills and Temple Sinai to screen “Deadly by Design.” (Photo provided by CeaseFirePA)
CeaseFirePA has teamed with Temple Emanuel of South Hills and Temple Sinai to screen “Deadly by Design.” (Photo provided by CeaseFirePA)

Josh Fleitman believes in the power of storytelling.

Fleitman is the campaign director for CeaseFirePA, an organization created in 2002 that is dedicated to ending gun violence in Pennsylvania. May 7, he said, is the group’s annual advocacy day in Harrisburg, a culmination of the work done the previous year promoting gun violence prevention policies.

And while he’s proud of the work CeaseFirePA has done, he knows it’s the voters who can put direct pressure on the state’s politicians. To help promote the importance of what Fleitman calls “common sense” gun policies, the advocacy group has created the video “Deadly by Design,” featuring gun violence victims telling their stories, including Pittsburgh synagogue shooting survivor Dan Leger.

“That’s what this storytelling project is all about,” Fleitman said, “shifting the narrative on what truly causes and prevents gun violence in order to help open up space for movement on policy at the political level and to shift the conversation and people’s ideas about gun violence in the first place.”

The film, he said, is about “lifting the voice” of the gun violence survivors and telling the human impact of the loss, trauma and pain behind the data, statistics and political analysis.

Fleitman called the last year “historic,” noting that three pieces of legislation were advanced by the state House: one for universal background checks; another commonly referred to as a “red flag” law — or an extreme risk protection order — would temporarily block the sale of guns to those deemed a risk to themselves or others; and a third calling for “ghost guns” to be treated like any other firearm, requiring them to have a serial number and mandating background checks of those who buy them.

All three bills are languishing in the Senate, he said, and all three could help prevent the rise in gun violence.

“There are these false narratives out there that gun violence is inevitable or random or that it’s caused by video games or mental health or having too few armed guards in places like schools and grocery stores and malls,” he said. “The data shows that gun violence is primarily caused by unfettered access to guns.”

Fleitman is clear: CeaseFirePA isn’t calling for a ban on the sale of guns or for laws requiring people to turn in firearms they may legally own.

“These bills have bipartisan support and are sitting in the state Senate,” he said. “Anyone who is saying CeaseFirePA is trying to take away our guns, look at the facts, look at the legislative record. It’s just not true.”

In fact, Fleitman said these policies are supported by most gun owners and will make the world safer while still respecting people’s ability to be responsible.

To help get the message out to Pennsylvania voters, CeaseFirePA has teamed with the Religious Action Center’s Pennsylvania Chapter and locally with Temple Emanuel of South Hills and Temple Sinai, which have spent April writing letters to politicians. Each Reform congregation is also screening “Deadly by Design” for its members and the community at large.

Ron Richards is a volunteer with RAC-PA and a member of Temple Emanuel. He said the congregation began writing letters in support of the three pieces of legislation earlier this year.

“Deadly By Design” will be screened at the Temple on Saturday, April 20, at 2 p.m., Richards said, and RAC Pa’s State Organizer Rachel Beck will attend.

Richards believes gun violence is not on a path to “self-correct.”

“I think the dialogue and communication and debate within our political arenas needs to take place and continue, and the state Senate should take up these bills,” he said. “To just put a stop to them and say, ‘We’re not even going to entertain discussion or debate or bring it to a vote,’ means they’re not representing the state of Pennsylvania, and I think that’s a problem.”

Jeanette Trauth is a RAC-PA volunteer at Temple Sinai. She said that the congregation started a letter-writing campaign in February.

“We engaged our congregants,” she said. “It was every Sunday in the month of February. We wrote letters to three key senators who control the movement of legislation out of committee and up for a vote. Those people are Lisa Baker, Joe Pittman and Kim Ward.”

Baker is the chair of the Senate’s Judiciary Committee, Pittman is the Senate majority leader and Ward is president pro tempore of the Senate.

Because gun violence isn’t strictly a Jewish value, Trauth said, the congregation has also participated in letter-writing events with local churches, including Church of the Redeemer, Sixth Presbyterian and Calvary Episcopal.

The campaign has involved more than 140 people, she said.

“We have the largest number of people engaged in this campaign and letter writing,” Trauth said. “That made me feel great.”
Temple Sinai has teamed with Rodef Shalom to promote its screening of “Deadly by Design” on April 28 at 1 p.m.

Those interested in learning more about “Deadly by Design” or viewing Leger’s clip can do so at deadlybydesign.org. PJC

David Rullo can be reached at drullo@pittsburghjewishchronicle.org.

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