The July 20 shooting in an Aurora, Colo., movie theater has prompted a closer look at gun culture and gun laws throughout the country, including on Penn’s campus and in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia’s recent history does not include a massacre like the Aurora theater shooting, which claimed the lives of 12 moviegoers. However, this year has seen approximately 210 homicides so far, according to Philadelphia Director of Public Safety Mike Resnick.
“The gun violence in Philadelphia is unacceptable,” Resnick said.
Vice President for Public Safety Maureen Rush works with Penn security forces to keep guns off campus. It is against University policy to have weapons on campus, with the exception of law enforcement on official business, Rush said. She added that employees have been fired and students expelled due to violating this policy.
“We have about 118 cameras that are being monitored … 24/7,” she said.
Despite this rule, Penn’s campus has seen incidents of gun violence. In January 2010, Penn had its own movie theater shooting when a man shot a Drexel University student and an off-duty police officer at the Bridge Cinema de Lux, now The Rave, located on 40th and Walnut streets. Another notable incident occurred in November 2011, when an ex-employee robbed the Starbucks under 1920 Commons at gunpoint.
To combat potential violence on campus, Rush and her team actively train.
“Since the 1990s, Penn Police have developed an active shooter policy training,” she said. “Our officers go through extensive training annually.” The training consists of classroom teaching and a drill in a Penn building where they simulate dealing with an active shooter.
Rush added that DPS adapts to what happens off campus as well.
“When things happen like what happened in the [Aurora] movie theater, we sit down and we talk about it,” she said. “We need to be able to respond to everything.”
DPS is not alone in dealing with gun violence. The city of Philadelphia has long been plagued with gun violence, and its Department of Public Safety is working on ways to combat it.
The most likely age group to shoot a gun or be a victim of gun violence is 14- to 24-year-olds, according to Resnick. To combat that, a group of gun control activists called CeaseFire PA goes onto the streets to work with Pennsylvania youth. Many members of the organization used to partake in gun violence themselves.
In addition, different parts of the Philadelphia government are working together to stop gun violence. The District Attorney’s office has raised the bail on gun cases, and Mayor Michael Nutter, a 1979 Wharton School graduate, asked the DA’s office to better enforce laws regarding illegal firearms.
Meanwhile, the issue of gun accessibility has put Philadelphia at odds with the state government.
“I think the number one reason [for the violence] is the availability of firearms,” Resnick said. Nutter himself is a member of the coalition Mayors Against Illegal Guns. However, a bill is pending in the Pennsylvania legislature that would impose a penalty on municipalities, including Philadelphia, which have laws that try to curb illegal gun sales. The National Rifle Association, which did not respond to interview requests, supports the bill.
“Opposition like that makes it hard for us,” Resnick said.