Two weeks ago, Scott Charles, the trauma outreach coordinator for Temple University Hospital, sat on a bench in Fairhill Square surrounded by kids. He was distributing free gun locks at the park on Lehigh Avenue near 4th Street to promote gun safety.
“Look at these kids,” he said. “Can you imagine what would happen if one of them got a gun? That’s why I do this.”
The regular service held by Charles fell in line with Philadelphia City Council’s announcement of multiple campaigns to improve gun safety throughout the city.
On Sept. 19, City Council announced its restoration of a program to distribute gun locks to gun owners throughout the city. The first distribution event was held Saturday at the Simons Recreation Center in West Oak Lane.
City Council will also host a “no questions asked” gun buyback on Oct. 15 at Simons Recreation Center.
Participants who bring their firearms to the event can exchange them for a gift certificate to grocery stores and retailers like ShopRite, Brown’s Markets, Villa, Five Below and Forman Mills.
Darrell Clarke, president of City Council, proposed a law in April that requires Philadelphia residents to keep firearms and ammunition locked away and out of the reach of children.
Roz Pichardo runs Operation Save Our City, a nonprofit organization. She teaches gun safety, hands out gun locks and facilitates gun buybacks in North Philadelphia.
“I think it’s a good initiative,” Pichardo said. “[Gun buybacks] need to be on the streets, all around North Philly.”
The gun lock distribution falls under the requirements of a statewide law, which mandates that when a person purchases a gun legally in a store, they are provided with a locking device.
But a lot of people in Philadelphia do not obtain their guns in a legal manner, Charles said.
“I try to stay in the Temple area but I’ve been all over the city talking to people about [gun locks],” he added.
A regular gun lock can cost up to $300, Charles said, but he makes sure every gunshot victim he sees at TUH gets a free gun lock, no questions asked. That was part of his initiative to get gun locks to people who could not afford them or who did not obtain a firearm legally.
The initiative started more than a year ago, when Charles received a box of 100 gun locks from Project ChildSafe, which donates gun locks to municipalities to distribute for free. He said he gave a few locks out here and there, but it wasn’t until after he heard about back-to-back accidental shootings involving children that Charles started really going through the gun locks.
“To get anywhere with this you need to be on the streets, you have to grind and be real about it,” Charles said.
The Philadelphia Police department estimated 213 people have been killed by guns in the city between Jan. 1 through Oct. 2. This is a 4 percent increase from 201 deaths that time last year.
Just in North Philadelphia, shootings increased by 44 percent, Charles said.
“There are a number of individuals in North Philadelphia who have seen systemic obstacles and challenges just like anyone in any neighborhood,” Charles said. “They’re going to do what they have to do to make ends meet.”
“The challenge is that this is an ongoing battle.”
Megan Milligan and Kate Crilly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.