Lt. Gov. Austin Davis believes state legislation combined with local initiatives will lead to a viable path to combat gun violence, a vital two-pronged effort.

“No matter what you look like or where you live, every Pennsylvanian has the right and deserves the right to feel safe in their communities,” Davis said at a news conference in Pittsburgh Tuesday, the first stop on a weeklong statewide “Safer Communities” tour.

Also speaking were County Executive Rich Fitzgerald and two local violence prevention leaders. They gathered at the Jeron X. Grayson Community Center in the Hill District, named after a teenager, Jeron, who died from gun violence. Jeron’s father, the Rev. Glenn Grayson, welcomed the speakers.

Davis is focusing on Pennsylvania’s efforts to prevent gun violence with his tour. He emphasized the dual need for common sense gun safety reform, such as red flag laws, and community-based initiatives. The state’s new budget, passed by the House but currently stuck in the Senate, includes $40 million in funding for community programs. Davis said that he hopes the General Assembly sends the budget to Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk, and Shapiro has said he will sign it.

The issue of gun violence has loomed large in American life and in Pennsylvania. Guns are the leading cause of death among young people in the commonwealth, Davis said, surpassing cancer. Violence is most common in underserved communities, where social factors such as poverty contribute. 

“We need a comprehensive gun safety strategy which includes continued investments in successful violence prevention programs,” Davis said. “We can’t thrive as a commonwealth if we’re not meeting basic needs for safety and security.”

He focused on supporting violence prevention programs that already exist, such as the Pittsburgh-based Neighborhood Resilience Project, which aims to support the transformation of neighborhoods from trauma-affected communities to resilient healing and healthy communities through trauma-informed community development, according to its website

The NRP has trauma vans that provide assistance to friends and family members of gun violence victims in Allegheny County. Davis toured two of the vans in the community center’s parking lot, guided by the Rev. Paul Abernathy, who heads the NRP.

“We have resources going into our community the levels of which we have not seen,” Abernathy said at the news conference. “This is a new era of unprecedented partnership. There is an extraordinary effort that is moving forward to address gun violence.”

In addition to a trauma response team, Davis hopes that people will be “empowered” in their communities to prevent gun violence. 

Youth and after-school programs that keep students on the right track can serve as a preventative measure, said Cathy Welsh of Turtle Creek, whose teenage son was shot and killed by a 13-year-old in 2017, at the news conference. Welsh is a local advocate for gun violence prevention. 

A variety of community solutions are necessary to make inroads against gun violence, Davis said.

“We’re not just going to police our way out of this — it’s going to take a comprehensive approach,” he said. “We need to hit the root causes. We need to fund our schools adequately to make sure every young person has access to a quality education. We need to make sure that young people have ladders of opportunity to the workforce.”

Fitzgerald, for his part, said that Allegheny County will put $50 million toward violence prevention efforts. Abernathy feels that with more backing, his organization can push further. 

“We have the support to continue doing the work that we’ve been doing for many years,” he said.

Speaking with portraits of Malcolm X and Tupac Shakur behind him, Davis emphasized the importance of progress against gun violence.

“Our children are counting on us to get things done,” he said.

Joined by the Rev. Paul Abernathy, left, of the Neighborhood Resilience Project and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Lt. Gov. Austin Davis kicks off his statewide “Safer Communities” tour with a news conference in the Hill District on Tuesday. (Harrison Hamm/Pittsburgh Union Progress)

Harrison, a rising senior at Denison University, is a Union Progress summer intern. Email him at

Harrison Hamm

Harrison, a rising senior at Denison University, is a Union Progress summer intern. Email him at