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Gun violence is ‘an American problem’

May 1—WILKES-BARRE — If Gov. Josh Shapiro and Lieutenant Governor Austin Davis are to achieve success in getting extra funding authorized for combating gun violence, tales just like the one informed on Wednesday by Scranton’s Kathy Lee Toothill must repeated time and again.

Toothill, 70, informed her story at Wednesday’s information convention within the rotunda of the Luzerne County Courthouse and whereas she spoke, you might hear a pin drop.

“I was shot 12 times with a 22-caliber rifle — six times in my legs, four times in my abdomen, and two times in my left arm,” Toothill mentioned. “I had a broken hip, broken arm and numerous internal injuries from the bullets.”

Shapiro and Austin had been joined by Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce, Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown, Rep. Jim Haddock, Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski and gun violence prevention advocates to focus on the Shapiro Administration’s investments in native regulation enforcement to research and prosecute gun violence and make our communities safer.

“With gun violence at unacceptable levels in our communities, now is the time to make investments where it matters,” Shapiro mentioned.

The Shapiro-Davis Administration has proposed $100 million within the 2024-25 funds to stop and scale back gun violence throughout the Commonwealth — together with $37.5 million in Gun Violence Investigation and Prosecution (GVIP) grant funding in order that Pennsylvanians could be protected and really feel protected of their communities.

All of the advocacy was accentuated by Toothill’s compelling — and horrific — story.

Toothill mentioned when she was 18, she was strolling residence from North Pocono High School on March 7, 1972, when a boy she had dated yelled to her. When she rotated, she noticed the boy had a gun.

When the boy went to re-load his rifle, he requested Toothill if she had had sufficient. She mentioned earlier than he may resume taking pictures, a neighbor arrived and the boy ran away.

“It was a horrible experience,” Toothill mentioned. “I have to say that recovering from gun violence is a lifelong process. There was no victim’s advocacy back in 1972 — and so we were left to our own devices.”

Toothill mentioned after she retired as a drug and alcohol counselor, she determined to hitch Moms Demand Action and develop into a fellow of the Everytown Survivor Network.

“I am so glad to hear that there will be money available to help the prosecution and helping people like me who have been victims of gun violence who are now survivors,” she mentioned.

Shapiro and Austin mentioned the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) has granted greater than $600,000 by the Gun Violence Investigation and Prosecution (GVIP) program to the Luzerne County District Attorney’s workplace to rent extra employees to research and prosecute gun violence associated crimes locally.

“All Pennsylvanians deserve to be and feel safe in their communities — that means living in a community free from the crime and violence that have harmed too many families across our Commonwealth,” Shapiro mentioned. “Thanks to the leadership of Lieutenant Governor Davis at PCCD, we’re already getting resources to our county district attorneys and local law enforcement to help them do the important work of investigating and prosecuting crimes involving gun violence.”

Shapiro mentioned he plans to proceed to construct on that work in his subsequent funds.

“I’ve proposed $100 million to continue to combat gun violence and to make sure our law enforcement agencies have the tools and personnel they need to make our communities safer,” he mentioned.

Austin mentioned to assault the epidemic of gun violence, a complete strategy should be taken that addresses the foundation causes, invests in community-based organizations which are doing violence prevention work and helps regulation enforcement businesses to assist them do the tough job they have been tasked with in retaining our communities protected.

“In the past six months, we’ve provided more than $2 million in grants to more than 50 agencies to help them recruit and train high-quality candidates to fill more than 400 vacant officer positions, and we will be providing up to $10 million in grants for local law enforcement agencies to upgrade their data collection and reporting systems,” Davis mentioned. “The problem of gun violence isn’t just a Philadelphia or Wilkes-Barre problem — it’s an American problem.”

In 2023 alone, counties that acquired GVIP funding filed over 8,000 legal instances involving weapons.

District Attorney Sanguedolce mentioned tanks to Gov. Shapiro and former funding, his workplace was in a position to rent a detective that was devoted to combating gun violence full time and one other detective half time and so they have teamed as much as make extra arrests than ever earlier than.

“It’s also partially funded a prosecutor in our office which, as you know, every DA’s office across the county is facing funding shortages and facing difficulty hiring prosecutors,” Sanguedolce mentioned. “This current funding proposed by the governor is going to allow us to increase personnel dedicated to reducing gun violence to stop unlawful purchases throughout the county and to prosecute the defendants to the fullest extent of the law. We’ll be able to provide overtime to municipal police officers who assist our office and engage in sting operations to take illegal firearms out of the hands of criminals where they don’t belong.”

The Luzerne County DA’s workplace utilized PCCD’s GVIP funding for quite a lot of bills associated to staffing, gear, and coaching below the gun prosecution unit and Gun Violence Task Force. Funding was used to broaden the gun prosecution unit, including a full-time detective and assistant district legal professional devoted to prosecuting instances arising out of the unit’s efforts.

“Additionally, funding was used for equipment to support the new hires and training for existing and new detectives,” Sanguedolce mentioned. “The gun prosecution unit remains busy investigating ‘ghost gun’ cases and straw purchases within the county.”

Sanguedolce mentioned since its inception in 2020, the unit boasts over a 99% conviction fee for individuals charged with PICS test violations (i.e., violations of the firearm background test). In the primary quarter of 2024, the unit additionally seized or recovered 16 firearms from individuals charged with felony or misdemeanor prices.

Mayor Brown mentioned investigation and prosecution of gun-related crimes requires coaching, time, and funding. He mentioned the PCCD’s Gun Violence and Prosecution Grant Program permits for funding to make these investigations and prosecution attainable.

“As Mayor of the City of Wilkes-Barre, I implore the Pennsylvania State Legislature to work with Gov. Shapiro’s Administration to again secure funding for this grant program for the 2024-2025 fiscal year,” Brown mentioned.

Haddock, D-Pittston Township, mentioned he is able to go to Harrisburg and combat for the $37.5 million within the state funds that invests more cash in retaining the individuals of Luzerne County protected.

“I know we must support our district attorney and our local law enforcement agencies,” Haddock mentioned. “This money is vital. I am ready to fight for more funding for our schools and more funding to create good jobs, and everything else we should be doing to stop gun violence at the source.”

Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, added, “We are Americans first and our safety does not have a political party. This money and this program that Gov. Shapiro is bringing forth today is one of those things that’s necessary to help all of those that keep us safe every day.”

Additionally, the Governor’s proposed funds features a $5 million enhance for the Nonprofit Security Grant Fund by PCCD, which helps nonprofits, neighborhood facilities, faith-based establishments (similar to church buildings, synagogues, and mosques), and different organizations set up security and safety measures.

Shapiro and Austin have additionally referred to as on the General Assembly to strengthen Pennsylvania’s legal guidelines and move important gun reform laws. Shapiro mentioned he helps the bipartisan payments that empower households and Pennsylvania regulation enforcement — and he is dedicated to constructing a broad coalition to assist commonsense gun security reform to guard communities all throughout the Commonwealth.

Asked if he feels assured that his funds will pas by the legislature, Shapiro mentioned, “I’m always confident. But this is an issue that should be supported by Democrats and Republicans. We will need bipartisan support to get it across the finish line.”

Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.

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