Editor’s note: The Daily Item will recognize people who have Made a Difference in the Valley in 2018 this week. This is the fourth part of a series that will continue until New Year’s Eve.
Pennsylvania’s adoption of a gun law targeting domestic abusers was the result of a bipartisan effort in Harrisburg sown in communities across the Commonwealth by a sizable lobby: Moms.
Members of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots network formed in the wake of the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting in Connecticut, rallied in towns large and small — towns like Bloomsburg, Sunbury and Lewisburg.
The Central Susquehanna Valley Chapter of Moms Demand Action isn’t quite two years old. It covers Columbia, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder and Union counties, and already boasts 125 members. Led by Shari Jacobson and Steva Stowell-Hardcastle, the local chapter engaged in classic community outreach: tabling events at festivals and fairs, writing editorials and appearing on radio programs, garnering the support of local law enforcement, staying in contact with legislators, collecting signatures of those in support of the then-proposal.
Efforts locally and statewide paid off this fall when the bill was signed into law, Act 79 of 2018, mandating that anyone surrender their firearms if they’ve been convicted of domestic violence or are subject of an active protection from abuse order.
“It is life-saving legislation,” said Jacobson, 56, of Union Township, a professor at Susquehanna University and mother of two. “Those signatures really helped.”
“For law enforcement, it’s the most dangerous situation for them to walk into, a domestic violence situation,” said Stowell-Hardcastle, 55, of East Buffalo Township, a stepmother to three, veterinarian and owner of Companion Animal Hospital, Selinsgrove.
Jacobson talks about the 36,000 lives lost annually by gun violence, saying most are preventable: suicides or domestic violence cases. Sensible gun control is something most Americans agree on, Jacobson said.
People have the right to own a firearm, whether it be for hunting, for protection, for collecting. Jacobson and Stowell-Hardcastle said they’re pro-Second Amendment. Too often the messaging about gun control is lost in political rhetoric, they expressed.
“I feel like there’s been a one-sided, weighted discussion in this country which has been driven by the gun lobby alone. Moms is that counterweight for sensible gun laws,” Stowell-Hardcastle said.
“Both Shari Jacobson and Steva Stowell-Hardcastle have made a difference in the lives of people in the Central Susquehanna Valley who now feel empowered to help make our community safer — as they themselves have done,” said Sara Kelley, a chapter member who nominated the two for The Daily Item’s year-end People Who Made a Difference.
“Shari and Steva have the drive, vision, discipline and effectiveness to corral a group that now numbers around 125 people locally and turn them into productive citizen lobbyists and informed educators,” said Sam Pearson, who also nominated the pair.
Jacobson said tiptoeing around the issue isn’t necessary. Honesty and sincerity are most effective in spreading the message of Moms Demand Action, she said. Be respectful, mindful and listen, she said.
“When people find out we are pro-Second Amendment, we want to keep firearms away from known dangerous people, it makes sense to them,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson helped form a new Moms chapter in Williamsport and mentored a group in State College. She said there’s an interest in organizing a chapter in the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre area.
A “red flag” law is at the top of the Moms agenda entering 2019, Jacobson and Stowell-Hardcastle said. A “red flag” law would allow a relative or member of law enforcement to petition a court to temporarily force someone to turn over firearms if they’re deemed mentally unfit and an immediate danger. Five states have such laws on the books with proposals active in another 18, according to The Washington Post.
The Central Susquehanna Valley chapter will continue community outreach through the Be SMART program: lessons in gun safety and storage, modeling good behavior, recognizing signs of suicide and depression, Stowell-Hardcastle said. It will also look to improve work with survivors of gun violence, Jacobson said.