Oxford residents sound off on gun control

Staff photo by Wm. Shawn Weigel: The crowd had lots to say about violence and mental health at a special meeting on gun control in Oxford Borough on Tuesday night.

The issue of gun control has hit the Oxford Borough with both barrels.

On Tuesday night, over 150 borough residents and other concerned citizens from throughout the region crowded into the public room at the Oxford Presbyterian Church to share their opinions on the issue of gun violence and gun control.

The meeting was organized by Oxford mayor Geoff Henry, in an effort to find common ground between the gun advocates and those who are concerned about escalating gun violence.

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Last month at a borough council meeting, Henry introduced a resolution that supports two House bills that focus on curtailing gun violence.

One of those bills, crafted by Senators Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), would call for mandatory background checks and tighter legislation on straw purchases and other illegal gun sales.

Tuesday’s meeting started off with Unionville resident Star Bright’s tale as a victim of gun violence, setting the framework for a discussion on mental health issues that many attendees returned to again and again as the night progressed.

Bright was shot by a paranoid schizophrenic who walked into a public place and randomly assaulted her over 22 years ago.

When he was released from prison just 10 years later, Bright’s reaction was so severe that she wound up with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder, an issue that has plagued her – along with the physical effects of the shooting – for most of her adult life.

“One bullet did this to me,” she said.

Numerous residents decried any notion of a national registry, something that is currently prohibited by federal law.

Despite that reality, several people suggested that any additional gun legislation would inevitably lead to a reversal of those laws in the name of public safety.

One woman accused Dave Scholnick, of the Mayors Against Illegal Guns organization, of forwarding an agenda that would ultimately “disarm us all.”

Scholnick spoke about the progress of the Manchin-Toomey Bill as well as other notable gun legislation movements.

“The legislative process continues,” he said.

Much of the rest of the discussion focused on prohibiting illegal gun sales, either through straw purchases or other means that criminals use to circumnavigate legal avenues.

It also focused on the notion that it is not a problem with guns, but a problem with people misusing guns that is plaguing the nation.

“What will any of this (legislation) do to stop someone when the very first thing they do is shoot their mother because they were denied purchase of a firearm … stole her weapon and committed (a) heinous crime?” one resident said. “I feel like we’re trying to skin the wrong cat.”

Tom Buglio, of the West Chester Coalition for the Prevention of Gun Violence, said that the terrorist act in Boston marks the first act of its kind since 9/11, adding that the government has done a good job at preventing further acts.

“The same cannot be said about gun violence,” he said.

He also said that while most gun owners are responsible and promote gun safety, laws needed to change to focus on those who should not own firearms – like HIPA restrictions that prevent doctors and therapists from revealing information about potentially dangerous patients.

Oxford resident Bob Ketchum said that the issue is not so much a challenge to the Second Amendment so much as it is a loss of Fourth Amendment rights pertaining to search and seizure laws – a casualty, he said, of the War of Drugs.

“We need to work to get that back,” he said. “That’s my concern.”

Dave Hutchins of the Southern Chester County Sportsmen and Farmers Association said that he does not support Henry’s resolution, adding that he feels it would infringe on citizens’ Second Amendment rights.

“We’re law-abiding citizens; why should we be curtailed?” he said.

He also advocated a greater focus on mental health issues.

“We need to find the next Dylan Kliebold or Eric Lanza,” he said.

Oxford resident Loraine Bell said that, as an elementary school teacher in a neighboring district, she is saddened that her students had to undergo a “code red” preparedness drill the day after the meeting.

A “code red” drill, she said, entails showing the students methods of hiding from intruders and other extreme safety measure, like leaving the blinds open so a sniper can identify and target an intruder.

“And they are scared,” she said. “So anything that can be done to lessen the gun violence, I’m all for it.”

Kennett Square resident Ross Cosi reiterated the notion that it was more a people problem than a gun problem.

“Guns are a tool, just like a car or a screwdriver,” he said. “If used in the wrong hands, they do harm.”