If you happened to find yourself in a diner in Wellsboro, Williamsport, Punxsutawney or some other puny Pennsylvania town this summer, you might have been approached by an engaging white-haired man with a “Stop Gun Violence” button on his lapel.
This was Phil Goldsmith, Philadelphia’s former managing director during the Street administration and currently head of the gun-control group CeaseFire PA. For fun, Goldsmith hopped in his car and spent a few days driving around the more rural parts of the state, chatting up people in diners, bars and sporting-goods stores. His mission was to hear what they think about, among other things, gun control. While, predictably, he was met with some leeriness — “One woman saw my button and said, ‘So you want to take my hunting rifle away, huh?’” Goldsmith laughs — he also heard more reasonableness than the NRA (which has helped squash nearly every attempt at gun control ever brought before the Pennsylvania legislature) would have you believe.
Goldsmith hopes to leverage the unsuspected moderateness of our citizenry. CeaseFire PA has formed a PAC and this year will try to “pick off” — electorally, not violently — a handful of legislators whose opposition to gun control seems out of step with their constituents. Goldsmith’s goal is to make officials as fearful of crossing CeaseFire PA as they are of tangling with the NRA — and his trip makes him hopeful it can happen. “In Elk County, I saw more elk than people,” he says. “And the elk are on my side.”