Gun violence, coronavirus, and the election

Surge in violence in Philly and other cities spurs effort to flip control of Pa. legislature

  • Ed Mahon/PA Post
My summer reading list includes Curtis Sittenfeld‘s new novel, Rodham. The book combines two of my favorite things: politics and a sci-fi-like What if? premise. The story imagines how the world would be different if Hillary Clinton had never married Bill. And here’s a third favorite thing: I’ll be reading Sittenfeld’s work on vacation next week. I read her short story collection – You Think It, I’ll Say It – on a trip to Virginia two years ago. It was delightful. —Ed Mahon, PA Post reporter

Emma Lee / WHYY

Tailynn Davis holds a memento from her son’s funeral as she sits on the porch of her home in North Philadelphia with her husband, Andre Davis.

WHYY’s Aaron Moselle takes a deep look at what happens when two crises collide: COVID-19 and gun violence.

“Robert Wood was murdered during what remains an exceedingly violent period in Philadelphia,” Moselle writes. “The city’s murder rate so far in 2020 is the highest it has been since 2007.”

Some experts predicted back in March that crime would dip as the coronavirus closed many businesses and forced people to practice social distancing, Moselle notes. That didn’t happen in Philadelphia.

“Researchers and anti-violence activists say poverty, high unemployment and more unstructured time are factors likely fueling some of the violence, but they stop short of drawing a direct correlation between COVID-19 and the city’s violent crime stats over the last few months,” Moselle writes.

Gun violence is on the rise in other cities, including New York. The New York Times explores some possible reasons: People are spending more time outdoors because the coronavirus limits indoor gatherings. The economic hardship and the stress could be to blame, the mayor says. Or maybe, as the police commissioner says, releasing people from jails and new regulations on policing are important factors.

Or maybe it’s the guns.

That’s what researchers at the University of California, Davis looked into, as they explored whether the surge in gun sales since the coronavirus outbreak began contributed to a rise in gun injuries and deaths, The Trace reports. Their conclusion?

“The researchers found that in May 2020 in particular, there were 633 excess gun-inflicted injuries — a 17.7 percent increase over expected levels,” Melinda Wenner Moyer reports. She notes that the study has not yet gone through the peer-review process.

In Pennsylvania, leaders of the Everytown for Gun Safety Victory Fund are hoping gun violence will be an important issue for voters this fall.

The group, co-founded by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, announced it will spend at least $1 million in the November election in an attempt to oust the Republica majorities in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. They identified 18 seats in the state House and five in the Senate as flippable.

It is worth mentioning one district not on the group’s target list: the 9th Senate District, covering parts of Delaware and Chester counties. That’s a vulnerable seat, the result of the Philly suburbs turning bluer and bluer. But incumbent Republican Tom Killion helped pass gun restrictions in protection-from-abuse and criminal domestic violence cases, and he’s pushed for extreme risk protection orders.

“Senator Killion is a moderate Republican,” Marybeth Christiansen, a volunteer leader in the Pennsylvania chapter of Moms Demand Action, told me last October. “He has been a champion for gun safety legislation his entire time in office.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Andrew Seidman has more about the Everytown Victory Fund’s spending plan, and he explains why flipping the House might be easier than doing the same for the Senate.

Best of the rest

Kate Landis / PA Post

A protester outside the Dauphin County prison on June 30, 2020. Inmates in multiple jails across the state say they’re being held in solitary-like conditions, going on four months.

  • Solitary-like lockdowns at county jails: State prisons have eased coronavirus restrictions, allowing inmates to leave their cells for meals, exercise, education, jobs and counseling, PA Post’s Joseph Darius Jaafari reports. But hundreds of inmates and detainees at county jails remain in lockdown. That includes jails in Philadelphia, as well as in Allegheny, Dauphin, Franklin and Lebanon counties, Joseph found.

  • $50 million for hazard pay: Gov. Tom Wolf says the state will provide grant funding to boost compensation for frontline workers who earn less than $20 an hour. Employers that receive the state funds would be required to pay the extra money over a 10-week period beginning Aug. 16 as a $3 per hour pay increase. The Morning Call’s Ford Turner has more information. The state Department of Community and Economic Development has details on how businesses can apply.

  • Wolf withholds coronavirus funds from one county: In May, Lebanon County’s Republican leaders voted to move themselves to the yellow phase of coronavirus restrictions, despite warnings from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf not to do so. Now, Wolf is withholding nearly $13 million in federal CARES Act money from the county. Congressman Dan Meuser says the decision is “not fair to hardworking Pennsylvanians” and reflects “just how out of touch the Governor is with rural Pennsylvania.” The president and CEO of the Lebanon Valley Chamber of Commerce says the money is “desperately needed to help our business community continue to recover and survive the ongoing restrictions and added costs to follow CDC guidelines.” Leaders in Beaver and Lancaster counties also encouraged businesses to reopen without the state’s approval, although they never passed a formal resolution to do so. (And Lancaster County, because of its population size, received CARES Act money directly from the federal government.)

  • The breadsticks loophole: In response to new coronavirus restrictions, some bars and restaurants are offering breadsticks, $1 bags of chips and pretzels, and hot dogs. PennLive’s Sue Gleiter reports that offering inexpensive or complimentary menu choices might allow bars to comply with the order that establishments without food service must remain closed to all but carry-out service.

  • State System changes coming?: The coronavirus epidemic may have been the tipping point, but Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education already was facing big challenges, including stiffer competition for students and higher operational costs. On Thursday, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports, the system’s chancellor “recommended that the board of governors explore the idea of integrating California and Clarion universities to focus on online education; combining academic programs at Edinboro and Slippery Rock universities; and placing emphasis at Lock Haven and Mansfield for adults seeking non-degree-earning educational pursuits.” and The Philadelphia Inquirer also covered the story.

  • (Not-so-) Universal rights: Mike Pompeo, President Trump’s top diplomat, gave a speech Thursday at the Constitution Center in Philadelphia where he defended an ongoing “reexamination of human rights,” saying it’s “warranted because the meaning of the phrase has been weakened due to a ‘proliferation’ of rights that aren’t inherent but are bestowed on citizens by their governments,” The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. “More rights does not necessarily mean more justice,” Pompeo said. WHYY’s Katie Meyer covered the speech as well. (Link to speech and video.)

  • National attention on 13-year-old boy charged with homicide: The boy fatally shot his younger brother while trying to play cops and robbers, police say, and he is now charged with criminal homicide and aggravated assault. The case has gained national attention from PeopleBuzzFeed News and others. PennLive’s Becky Metrick explores possible penalties the boy could face and explains what factors will influence whether the case is handled in juvenile court.

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