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Why Your Vote Matters in the Fight to End Gun Violence

By Kyla Downs

I have a personal problem with gun legislation that stems from the lack of controls. I feel like getting and concealing a gun is too easy. Getting a gun should be as hard as getting healthcare. But it’s not. How did we get here?

The second amendment in the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791. It states: "A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." The National Firearms Act (NFA), the first gun control legislation, was not passed until more than a hundred years later, on June 26, 1934. This legislation was later changed in response to the gangland violence that plagued the prohibition era. The result was the Federal Firearms Act (FFA) of 1938. This imposed a federal license requirement on gun manufacturers, importers, and those who were in the business of selling firearms. The FFA demanded licensees to maintain customer records, and the transfer of firearms to people with felonies was made illegal. Since then, there have been at least ten major federal gun laws enacted.

These laws are:

There is no law in Pennsylvania requiring a license permit to purchase or own a firearm. But there is a Pennsylvania Instant Check System (PICS) that dealers must run when Pennsylvanians buy a firearm. The Pennsylvania Instant Check System is operated by the Firearm Division which keeps records on firearms licensing and transfers. Firearms dealers use PICS to check who can legally buy a firearm, giving them instant access to a background check on the person. Pennsylvania checks the following:

  • Department of Human Services Child Abuse History Clearance

  • Pennsylvania State Police Request for Criminal Records Check

  • Federal Criminal History Record Information (CHRI).

When it comes to having a gun in your possession, a permit is required for the concealed carry of a handgun. But in Pennsylvania, it is not a requirement to have a permit to carry a gun openly. It is also concerning that gun owners moving into the state are not required to register their firearm. There is a worrisome amount of autonomy in the ownership of a firearm. Legal ownership.

So how many guns are being bought and sold legally? More than 12.9 million guns were legally sold or transferred in Pennsylvania between 1999 and 2020. In the city of Philadelphia, handgun sales more than doubled from 2017 to 2020. More people sought out guns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These rules and numbers only account for legal ways to acquire a gun. People are still capable of getting a gun by other means. All kinds of other means. In the Washington Post’s article, "In Philadelphia, Teenagers Want Guns Off the Streets," Francis Wilkinson quotes a long-term activist who says teens can rent guns at a barbershop. As I said before, it is too easy for minors to get a gun. In cities like Philadelphia, this is especially true, despite City Council bans, for example against semi-automatic weapons. But in a state where it’s perfectly legal to own a gun without a license, city bans are hardly ever enforced. The Philadelphia Police Department and the District Attorney cannot keep up with the amount of illegal firearms circulating.

Worst yet, when it’s so common for people in Philadelphia to own guns, legal or illegal, other people feel that they have to have them, too. And, as we’ve seen, they can get them. Like I said, much more easily than healthcare.

Kyla Downs is a Science and Technology in Societies major from South Jersey who has a passion for healthcare equality in the United States. She also was one of three cheer captains in ‘21-’22.

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