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Shapiro touts gun violence prevention in Luzerne County

Gov. Josh Shapiro shakes hands with Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown during a press conference at the Luzerne County Courthouse.
Aimee Dilger
Gov. Josh Shapiro shakes hands with Wilkes-Barre Mayor George Brown Wednesday at the Luzerne County Courthouse during a press conference to advocate for more spending to combat gun violence across Pennsylvania.

Kathy Lee Toothill was shot 12 times by an ex-boyfriend in 1972.

“He did at one point come up to me and said, have you had enough?” she said.

Now 70, Toothill is an advocate for gun violence prevention. She shared her story alongside Gov. Josh Shapiro, Lt. Gov. Austin Davis and local officials at the Luzerne County Courthouse Wednesday afternoon as they came to press their case for more funding to combat the issue.

Toothill is saddened to see it has only become more prevalent in the 52 years since her incident.

“It’s not weird anymore that I’m afraid to go into crowds because you might get shot,” she said. “Because you really might now.”

Shapiro is asking the General Assembly to approve next year’s budget, which includes $100 million to prevent and reduce gun violence. The proposal includes $37.5 million in Gun Violence Investigation and Prosecution (GVIP) grant funding for local law enforcement agencies.

“Last year, the Shapiro-Davis Administration, in our budget, delivered $40 million for gun violence prevention all across Pennsylvania. That was $10 million more than had been done previously,” Shapiro said. “This year, I want to more than double that investment.”

The issue is real and the funding is needed in Northeastern Pennsylvania, officials said.

“We’re seeing an exceptional amount of gang violence more than ever before in Northeast Pennsylvania," Luzerne County District Attorney Sam Sanguedolce said.

His office has received more than $600,000 to hire more staff to investigate and prosecute gun-related crimes. The funding came from the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) through the GVIP program.

Sanguedolce said his office used previous GVIP funding to expand the county’s gun prosecution unit, which was established in 2020.

“We’re seeing more straw purchases than ever before, that is people permitted to lawfully buy firearms, but their intent is to transfer those firearms to people that aren’t allowed to have them,” he said. In the last few weeks, officials have seen "major production" of ghost guns being 3-D printed in backroom operations.

Sanguedolce said the proposed funding would allow his office to increase personnel, pay overtime to municipal police officers who assist and conduct relevant sting investigations.

Lt. Governor Austin Davis is Chair of the PCCD.

“It’s uniquely an American problem, but it’s a problem that we can and must do something about,” Davis said. “And the proposed investments in our budget would be an important step to making all of our communities safer.”

Toothill is hopeful for the future.

"There are an awful lot of guns out there, and an awful lot of people who want to use them," she said. "It's going to be a hard problem to fix, but I believe it can be done."

Heather Davis was there in support. She is the local co-lead for Lackawanna County Moms Demand Action, a national organization that works to reduce community violence.

"I want to support legislation and politicians who know that it's common sense that we just want to keep people safe," she said. "This isn't a political issue, it's an issue about our safety."

Haley joined the WVIA news team in 2023 as a reporter and host. She grew up in Scranton and studied Broadcast Journalism at Marywood University. Haley has experience reporting in Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lehigh Valley. She enjoys reporting on Pennsylvania history and culture, and video storytelling.

You can email Haley at haleyobrien@wvia.org