June 1, 2018 In The News, Media

Parkland shooting survivor calls for action at South Jersey town hall, says gun violence ‘is in the hands of our country’

HADDON HEIGHTS — Carly Novell hid for more than two hours in a closet at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, while fellow students and staff members were gun downed and killed.

Decades earlier, her grandfather Charles Cohen, who was 12 at time, also hid in a closet in his Camden home while his parents were murdered by 28-year-old neighbor, Howard Unruh, during a 1949 shooting massacre that claimed the lives of 13 people, including three children.

Novell reflected on her experience and on the numerous other mass shootings that have occurred across the nation Tuesday during a gun violence town hall at Haddon Heights High School hosted by Rep. Donald Norcross, D-1st of Camden.

“This is not natural and in the hands of fate, it’s in the hands of our country,” said Novell, who spoke at the event via Skype. “Shootings are not occurring weekly as they do here in any other country. This is a problem and we can’t sit here and watch people get murdered like the school resource officer did at my school on Feb. 14.”

The senior said she was in favor of “common sense gun laws” that improve background checks on all gun purchases to keep guns out of the hands of those with the potential to do harm, as well as bans on bump stocks and automatic or semiautomatic firearms.

“I don’t see the need for that in society,” she said.

Novell’s aunt, Robin Cogan, also spoke at the event with Norcross and a panel of South Jersey students, school officials, police and gun control activists.

Cogan, who is a school nurse in Camden, said she became a “nurse activist” for gun violence prevention after the Parkland shooting. She said it needs to be treated as a health issue and crisis.

“Violence, think of it as a disease. People are exposed to it and it grows and grows until we address the causes behind the violence,” she said.

Norcross, who has advocated for stronger gun control during his two terms in the U.S House, said he wanted to host a conversation about the issue before returning to Congress to continue pressing for safety improvements.

He recalled his past tenure in the New Jersey Legislature, where he served as chair of the Senate Law and Public Safety Committee, following the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting. A package of gun control bills were advanced from his committee, including a measure to impose stricter penalties on trafficking guns obtained from other states and reselling them in New Jersey. It was eventually approved by the full Legislature and was one of only a few gun measures signed by then-Gov. Chris Christie.

“When we have desire, it’s remarkable what we can accomplish,” Norcross said during the town hall. “But I don’t think (Congress) is there yet.”

Responding to a question, Norcross said he believed passing a new federal assault weapons ban was a longshot, particularly one that would confiscate weapons from gun owners. Instead, he said his focus has largely been on trying to convince colleagues to support improvements to background checks and to oppose measures pushed by the National Rifle Association to require states like New Jersey to honor concealed carry permits from other states and lift some of the stringent restrictions on silencers.

“No system is foolproof, but I think there’s enough common ground so we can all start to make change,” Norcross said about improving background checks to make them more comprehensive and required for all gun sales.

Novell said all Americans should be able to agree on actions to prevent violence from claiming additional lives.

“The fact of the matter is people are dying who should not be dying,” she said. “Children should not be being murdered and this pain should not be generational. This shouldn’t have happened to my grandpa and it certainly shouldn’t have happened almost 70 years later at my school.”

Read more at the Burlington County Times.