NCJWAZ Gun Panel

Clockwise from back left:  Eden Wein, March for Our Lives Arizona; Civia Tamarkin, National Council of Jewish Women Arizona; Gerry Hills, Arizonans for Gun Safety; state Rep. Jennifer Longdon; and Marie Thearle, Moms Demand Action Phoenix. 

The president of the National Council of Jewish Women Arizona, Civia Tamarkin, did not mince words when it came to the country’s level of gun violence.

“We are facing a national epidemic here,” Tamarkin said. “When you have 100 people dying of gun-related deaths a day, health officials say this is an epidemic. The problem is that too many people view this as a political or ideological battle and that of course interferes with the ability to make progress on this.”

Tamarkin made the remarks at a NCJWAZ panel at Temple Chai titled “Gun Violence Prevention in Arizona: What’s Ahead for 2020” on Oct. 15. The panel was hosted by Gerry Hills, the founder and president of Arizonans for Gun Safety. The purpose of the panel was to make gun violence seem like less of an insurmountable problem.

“The average person often says, ‘How do I impact this? Or what difference can I make?’” said Hills, who founded Arizonans for Gun Safety in 1996 after her brother was murdered by a man with an assault rifle. “But when you start talking about it in terms of suicide or storage issues, it becomes manageable. Once you can break it down, then you can turn it into something that people can understand.”

The evening featured three panelists: Marie Thearle, MD, Phoenix group lead of Moms Demand Action; state Rep. Jennifer Longdon; and Eden Wein, teen leader for March for Our Lives Arizona. The three gun-safety advocates discussed state laws, programs and their personal experiences. 

While Longdon was elected to represent District 24 in January, her views on gun safety were shaped long before she entered politics. In 2004, Longdon was paralyzed in a random drive-by shooting in Phoenix. Since then, she has worked as an advocate for disability awareness and gun violence prevention; she served as commissioner for the Phoenix Mayor’s Commission on Disability Issues, worked for the Christopher and Dana Reeve Foundation as a public impact advisor and was appointed by the governor to the Arizona Statewide Independent Living Council. 

Longdon feels that part of the problem with gun violence in Arizona stems from firearm accessibility. “Arizona is really only second to Alaska in how easy it is to get a gun,” she said.

In Arizona, there is no permit, background check or firearms registration required when buying a handgun from a private individual. The purchaser only needs to be 18. The minimum-age requirement to buy a gun from a federally licensed dealer is 21. There is no ban on assault weapon sales in Arizona.

Arizona does have some ownership restrictions, though. Prohibited possessors include those convicted of a felony, undocumented people and anyone who is deemed a threat to themselves and others by court order.

As a “constitutional carry” state, Arizona does not require an individual to have a permit for concealed carry. The state is the third in modern U.S. history to allow the carrying of concealed weapons without a permit, and it is the first state with a large urban population to do so.

Longdon explained that the process to obtain a concealed carry permit is easier now than it used to be. 

“Gerry and I got a Groupon deal on a two-for-one concealed carry permit class last year,” Longdon said. “My class was about three hours and most of it was just getting our fingerprints.” 

She added that she remembered a time when a concealed carry course in Arizona could take up to 40 hours.  

Thearle, a retired physician, said there needs to be more training for anyone who wants to own a gun. 

“If you’re going to be a gun owner, I think you should be educated on how to use that gun and how to store that gun,” Thearle said. “We need all this education in order to drive, so why don’t we apply that to guns? I’m not saying that you shouldn’t own a gun — I’m just saying you should be educated.”

Thearle’s group, Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for gun safety laws, has a public awareness campaign, Be SMART, that teaches gun owners about the importance of safely storing firearms. 

Wein, the youngest of the panelists, got involved with the student-led protest group March for Our Lives shortly after the shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February 2018. A junior at Sunnyslope High School, Wein said that the fear of a shooting is very real for her and her peers.

“We used to roll our eyes at lockdown drills,” Wein said. “But lately, whenever one happens, you can tell that people are a little more freaked out. One day our principal forgot to tell us that it was happening, so when the alarms went off we all thought it might be real.”

She added that Arizona sees about one school shooting threat every day. “We can’t have kids going to school every day worrying about if they’re going to come home or not.”

Many of the event’s attendees said that they learned a great deal about the intricacies of gun safety laws. Julia Lange, a sophomore at Desert Mountain High School, came to the event with her grandmother, Hannah Lange.  

“It’s something I think about in the back of my head a lot,” the high schooler said of gun violence. “It’s at school, but it’s also in big open spaces and events; if the lights go out, what am I going to do? Where am I going to go?”

Hannah Lange said that gun safety laws were not a social issue when she was her granddaughter’s age.

“Yes, we had some shootings in the distance, but it wasn’t a conversation we were concerned with and today it’s definitely a conversation we’re concerned with,” Hannah Lange said. “I don’t want my granddaughter to be going to school scared all the time, because that’s not healthy, but it’s something we have to think about.” JN