The Philadelphia Tribune: Leaders speak out on Brewerytown tragedy

Rep. Donna Bullock, pictured center, and Sheriff Rochelle Bilal met Wednesday to distribute free gun locks in the Brewerytown area after the accidental death of a 2-year old. — Courtesy Donna Bullock

Congressman Dwight Evans introduced Ethan’s Law, requiring to secure their firearms in a “secure gun storage or safety device” if a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without permission, and pushed for the Kimberly Vaughan Firearm Safe Storage Act, which would protect minors from the dangers of unsecured guns. —  Dwight Evan’s Office.

Following the tragic death of a 2-year-old girl who was left alone in a room with a 9-year-old cousin, a 14-year-old boy with Down’s Syndrome and a loaded, unlocked gun, several city officials and organizations are working to make the public aware of the availability of free gun locks.

Sheriff Rochelle Bilal, along with Police District Captain Michael Goodson and State Rep. Donna Bullock met to distribute free gun locks Wednesday night. The group gave out 100 free gun locks in the 1600 block of North 29th Street where the shooting occurred.

“We should not be losing our children to unfortunate accidents like this,” said Bullock whose office in the 195th Legislative District is located nearby at 2835 W. Girard Ave. “These terrible tragedies underscore the need to safely store and lock your firearms.

“A loss like this weighs heavily on the soul of our community. My heart is with the family and those who stopped to help during this difficult time.”

State Rep. Morgan Cephas mourned the loss of the 2-year-old who died on July 28. The toddler’s grandmother, Twanda F. Harmon, 54, of Brewerytown, was charged with involuntary manslaughter, endangering the welfare of a child and recklessly endangering another person. She was also allegedly in possession of a handgun reported stolen in South Carolina, according to the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office.

“One more young life lost is one too many,” said Cephas. “Our city grieves for the community in Brewerytown over this needless loss of a baby girl. There are ways out of this darkness that has enveloped our city, but it takes leadership by my colleagues to make the decisions that should not be so difficult.”

Cephas also criticized Pennsylvania’s General Assembly for inaction on common sense gun reform bills.

“The House must vote on safe-storage requirements, banning ghost guns and a revised lost and stolen reporting bill,” said Cephas.

She agreed with Sens. Vincent Hughes and Art Haywood who said they need more Republican support in the Senate to pass gun legislation at a press conference in Strawberry Mansion.

“We call on the Senate to approve the commonsense reforms approved by the House awaiting action in their chamber,” said Cephas. “There are even more measures ready to be discussed in our House Chamber, measures that would have a direct impact on saving the lives of Philadelphians and the public safety of all Pennsylvanians. I hope that in our upcoming fall session, these bills will get their due attention.”

The Kimberly Vaughn Firearm Safety Storage Act, or H.R. 130, requires firearms and ammunition on residential premises to be safely stored if a minor is likely to gain access without permission, or if an individual who resides at the residence is ineligible to possess a firearm.

The storage act states that ammunition must be safely “secured, unloaded and separated in a safe and locked with a trigger lock; or stored off the premises at a storage facility or gun range.”

An individual who violates that act would face criminal penalties if the firearm discharges, or civil charges, otherwise. Additionally, the Department of Justice would seize the offender’s firearms and ammunition.

Ethan’s Law (H.R. 660) narrowly passed the U.S. House of Representatives in June 2022, but was stalled afterward, said Ben Turner, communications cirector for Rep. Dwight Evan’s office. The law would provide an enhanced penalty for allowing a minor to access a firearm — namely a $500 fine and or up to five years in prison.

“An estimated 4.6 million minors (under age 18) in the United States live in homes with at least one unsecured firearm,” according to the Congressional Research Service. “Seventy-three percent of children under the age of 10, living in homes with firearms, reported knowing the location of their parent’s firearms. Thirty-six percent of those children reported handling their parents’ unsecured firearms.”

The presence of unsecured firearms in the home increases the risk of unintentional and intentional shootings. Over 75% of firearms used in youth suicide attempts and unintentional firearms injuries were stored in the residence of the victims, relative or a friend, from the Library of Congress, 2021.

“The heartbreaking loss of a 2-year-old girl in Brewerytown is a tragic reminder of the need to secure guns with a lock or safe storage,” said Evans on Twitter. “I have co-sponsored safe-storage bills including Ethan’s Law (HR 660), and the Kimberly Vaughan Firearm Safe Storage Act (HR 52), which would also provide $100 million over 10 years for the distribution of safe storage devices like gun locks.”