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Pittsburgh-area students, citizens travel to Harrisburg, advocate for gun control laws

Jamie Martines
| Wednesday, April 11, 2018, 11:25 p.m.
Jamie Martines | Tribune-Review
Grace Brennan, Trinity Cioppa, Ciara Turner, Jayden Lucas and Kiondre Tibbs, all students at Woodland Hills High School, participate in a gun control rally in Harrisburg April 11, 2018.

A bus trip to Harrisburg on Wednesday was more than just a day off from school, Woodland Hills High School senior Kiondre Tibbs said.

“We've lost too many people to gun violence,” Tibbs said, standing at the foot of the grand staircase in the Capitol Rotunda.

“We all understood that it's bigger than us,” he said.

Tibbs was one of about 45 Pittsburgh-area residents to attend a rally and to meet with lawmakers in Harrisburg to advocate for gun control laws. The visit took place against the backdrop of a nationwide debate over gun violence and school safety, and coincided with Pennsylvania House Judiciary Committee meetings taking place throughout the week.

The group from Pittsburgh, which was organized by the gun control group CeaseFirePA, pushed for bills that would tackle issues such as banning assault weapons and bump stocks, limiting high-capacity magazines and requiring individuals convicted of domestic violence crimes to give up their firearms.

Among the group were 13 Woodland Hills students, two North Allegheny High School students and one student from Greensburg Salem Middle School.

Woodland Hills 11th-grader Ciara Turner was one of several students from across Pennsylvania to speak at the rally. Turner's twin brother, Jerame, was shot and killed in November. He was one of four Woodland Hills students to die as a result of gun violence this school year.

Turner said she wants lawmakers to consider more funding for trade schools, community centers and after-school activities — safe and supportive environments where young people can go to learn new skills and stay out of trouble, she said.

“How many people have to die before we decide to open new doors,” Turner asked the crowd, reading from a poem she wrote describing the impact of her brother's death. “I'm saying this because it took my brother to get killed for me to fully realize that our community sits upon a culture of hatred, lies and divide.”

Woodland Hills students met with Rep. Paul Costa, D-Braddock, and Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Pittsburgh. The lawmakers encouraged the students to keep pressuring representatives on both sides of the aisle to act.

“I'm glad they made the effort to talk to us,” said Costa, whose three children attended Woodland Hills.

During the meeting, he talked to students about his position on various gun control-related bills and gave them tips for reaching their representatives.

“I feel like that's a good first step in what we're trying to do,” said Grace Brennan, a junior at Woodland Hills. She said that the group of students from Woodland Hills — organized under the name Woodland Hills Students Against Gun Violence — plans to continue pushing representatives on legislation that would ban assault weapons and limit high-capacity magazines.

Some Pittsburgh-area attendees didn't have as much luck tracking down their representatives at the Capitol.

Sean Stefanko, a senior at North Allegheny, said he was disappointed that he didn't get to meet with his local representative, Rep. Mike Turzai, R-McCandless. Stefanko said that he was told Turzai was busy with meetings Wednesday afternoon.

He salvaged the afternoon by attending meetings along with his peers from Woodland Hills.

“Right now, we should use these facts and statistics we have about gun violence to make it a little bit safer,” he said.

Laura Nepple of Greensburg had planned to meet with Rep. Eric Nelson, R-Hempfield, but he wasn't in his office Wednesday afternoon. After several calls to his office, Nepple said she dropped by twice and left her contact information.

Nepple said she plans to follow up with Nelson at one of his local events.

Her daughter, Allison Nepple, a sixth-grader at Greensburg Salem Middle School, left Harrisburg with a lingering question: Why did it take the recent school shooting in Parkland, Fla., where 17 people were killed, to spark the current debate over gun control?

“I'm just wondering why no one took charge,” she said.

Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at jmartines@tribweb.com, 724-850-2867 or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.

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