The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 4, 2013

Controlling violence starts at home, group told

By Tom Davidson
Herald Staff Writer

FARRELL — “If we stand together and make enough noise, someone will listen,” the Rev. Charles Johnson told about 15 people who turned out Wednesday to a gun-control news conference.

The event, held at the urging of the national group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, was organized in part by Farrell Mayor Olive McKeithan and Democratic activist Judy Hines.

McKeithan apologized for asking for impromptu speeches, which were given by Johnson and Southwest Mercer County Regional Police Chief Riley Smoot.

“I know I’m putting you on the spot. Because we’re on the spot,” McKeithan said, noting she received word to hold the event on Tuesday from the mayors’ group.

It was one of several held across the country to gather signatures to petition Congress for gun-control legislation.

“Whenever we talk about violence, it concerns all of us,” said Johnson, the pastor of Cedar Avenue Church of God in Sharon and the president of the Shenango Valley Ministerial Association.

“I’m also a father and a husband,” he said. “As a pastor, as a father, as a leader, I believe it’s important to show up for things like this,” Johnson said. “We must make sure we’re doing all we can to make this community a safe place,” he said.

Although billed as a news conference, the event could better be described as an informal powwow of people who support some form of gun control.

“I think we have to educate the parents,” McKeithan said.

“To have a 12-year-old packing a gun on the corner should be unheard of,” she said, although she admitted it isn’t unusual for that to happen in Farrell.

Smoot, who has three decades’ worth of experience in law enforcement in the Shenango Valley, said the problems in the area go beyond what can be remedied by gun laws.

“I think we have a long way to go to get to where we address this issue,” Smoot said.

He asked those who attended for specific ways to help him enforce gun laws to make the area safer.

“Don’t tell me the pie in the sky” stuff, Smoot said.

No specifics were offered up, however.

“If there was a way” to reduce the amount of guns available to criminals, Smoot said police would do it, but there isn’t adequate funding for something like a gun buy-back program here, and even if there were, there’s little evidence such programs work to reduce crime.

“The problem is there’s always going to be that opportunity to get it,” Smoot said of a gun.

“It’s unacceptable to do nothing,” said Bob Lark, a former chairman of the Mercer County Democratic Party.

“I don’t think there’s one silver bullet,” to solve the problem, Johnson said.