It is, on the surface, a modest proposal.
Nearly 330 Americans are shot every day. Reducing that figure through the pursuit of meaningful gun control laws remains, even now, a third rail of U.S. politics. In the meantime, could policy makers at least ensure that Americans who survive being shot can obtain assistance to rebuild their lives?
That’s the premise of the Resources for Victims of Gun Violence Act, which was first introduced in 2019 by U.S. Sen. Bob Casey and U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans. The Democrats’ legislation called for the creation of a federal advisory council that would identify the needs that gun violence victims struggle to meet — from housing and transportation to education and employment — and repair gaps in governmental safety nets.
The bill, which was crafted in response to Shot and Forgotten, a 2018 Inquirer report on paralyzed gun violence victims, takes pains to avoid infringing on anyone’s Second Amendment rights. Yet no Republican member of Congress agreed to be a cosponsor in 2019, or in 2021, when the Democratic Pennsylvania-based legislators reintroduced it.
Friday, Casey and Evans said they reintroduced the bill again, while appearing together at the Philadelphia chapter of Concerned Black Men of America, in West Oak Lane. Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Austin Davis also announced that the state would launch a similar effort to help gun violence survivors find sorely-needed assistance.
“People are tired of waiting, and tired of not having access to the kind of help that they have a right to expect in a country as powerful as ours,” Casey said.
Quantifying America’s gun violence epidemic is a dizzying, heartbreaking task.
There have been at least 280 mass shootings so far this year, according to the Gun Violence Archive, an independent research organization. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence estimates that more than 117,000 people are shot in the U.S. every year; more than 7,900 of those victims are children under the age of 17.
In Philadelphia, 156 people have been shot to death thus far, while 618 others have survived being shot. (In 2022, the city experienced a staggering amount of gun violence for the third consecutive year: 506 people were fatally shot, while another 1,831 people were shot but survived.)
Evans cited the ever-growing list of victims across the U.S. as reason to try for a third time to build support for the Resources for Victims of Gun Violence Act.
“We have to keep working at it, because clearly gun violence has not gone away, and so unfortunately the numbers of victims and survivors continue to grow in both blue and red states,” Evans said. “It’s not a Democratic or Republican problem — it’s an American problem, and an American tragedy.”
While news coverage might focus on the latest once-safe setting to play host to a shooting — a mall one day, a beach or bus the next — little attention is paid to the struggles that gun violence survivors face in the months and years that follow, time that is often spent trying navigate networks of state, local and federal assistance.
“Every Pennsylvanian deserves the freedom to live in a safe community,” Davis said. But that’s not the reality for many in the state’s most marginalized communities.
The Inquirer found that disabled survivors in Philadelphia and across the U.S. had long grown accustomed to feeling forgotten, and having to scrounge for benefits. Some had to rely online fund-raisers to help them afford new wheelchairs or handicapped-accessible housing.
“Both parties talk about helping victims of crime,” Evans said. “This is a chance to do exactly that.”
The council that Casey and Evans’ bill would establish would be run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and depend on input from gun violence survivors and victim assistance professionals.
It will be tasked with submitting a report to Congress within 180 days of the bill’s passage, documenting which programs are effective, and whether new services are needed.
“If your answer to our gun violence problem is that no new laws will make a difference,” Casey said, “then you are in fact surrendering to the problem.”