EV parents turn their grief into a campaign - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

EV parents turn their grief into a campaign

February 4th, 2023 SanTan Sun News
EV parents turn their grief into a campaign

By Cecilia Chan
Staff Writer

A year and four months have passed but the death of his 15-year-old son Christian still gnaws at Bruce Petillo’s heart.

“We are devastated,” the Gilbert dad said. “You never come to terms with it.

“The fact that this was a preventable accident makes it worse.”

It was Labor Day weekend 2022 and Christian was at a friend’s house on a county island in Queen Creek.

The friend was showing off his mom’s handgun to Christian and other boys in a bedroom. As Christian held the gun, it went off, firing a 9mm bullet into his chest, according to the Maricopa County Sheriff’s report.

The high school sophomore was rushed to the hospital and later pronounced dead. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner determined the shooting was accidental.

The Petillos’ youngest child also left behind a brother and sister.

“As parents you’re constantly looking to protect your children,” Petillo said. “I lay awake at night thinking about ‘what if.’

“Quite frankly we were supposed to be in Hawaii that weekend and postponed the trip because I got sick early in the week…and he went with friends and the accident happened.”

Petillo and his wife, Claire, have now channeled their grief into preventing needless deaths such as Christian’s.

The couple has formed the No Do-Overs organization with the goal of stopping children from gaining unauthorized and unsupervised access to guns via education, advocacy and legislation. They’ve also set up a GoFundMe page to raise $10,000 toward that effort.

“One of the reasons we looked at this name for the foundation No Do-Overs is that children are going to make mistakes,” Petillo said. “Most of the time they have the opportunity to learn from them.

“When it comes to guns there are no do-overs and as we as parents look back, we know we can’t change what happened with Christian. There’s no do-over for us.

“We do know we can take what’s happened and save the next child, the next family from having to endure the same tragedy that we’ve endured.”

The organization is pushing a bill called Christian’s Law, which requires gun owners to secure their firearms and ammunition and carries a $1,000 penalty for violation.

Petillo backed up the effectiveness of such a law by pointing to a report by the RAND Corp.

The nonprofit think tank found that child-access prevention laws or safe storage laws reduce self-inflicted fatal or nonfatal firearm injuries, including unintentional and intentional self-injuries, among youth and also reduce firearm homicides among youth.

State Rep. Jennifer Longdon, D-Phoenix, introduced HB 2192 on Jan. 12. Longdon is a long-time advocate for gun safety after she was paralyzed in a random drive-by shooting in 2004.

Christian’s Law is actually a resurrection of HB 2367, which Longdon introduced in the 2022 legislative session and was held up in the Republican-controlled Rules Committee. Longdon introduced a total of 10 bills in the last session related to gun regulation, all of which were stalled in committees.

The three-term representative said she is unsure how this latest measure will fare.

“With dozens of new members and a new governor, I don’t know how to compare our chances to last year,” Longdon said. “These are often, you know, a very long view with public policy and especially with common-sense gun safety. It’s just been too long.”

She added that as a survivor of gun violence, she – like the Petillos – isn’t going away.

“We’re going to keep pushing this for as long as it takes, for as long as we can because honestly, that’s what we should be doing,” she said. “This is an issue that has broad public support and it would absolutely save lives.

“But the reality is that the Republicans still control a slight majority and they overall are terrified of the power of the gun lobby, the extremist gun lobby. So even incremental common-sense changes are a huge challenge and require political courage and that’s a rare commodity around here.

“And so it takes courage of families like the Petillos and others to get this done. The issue isn’t going away. And neither are we.”

Fellow House Democrat Jennifer Pawlik, whose Legislative District 13 covers a part of Gilbert, is the bill’s co-sponsor.

“It’s a matter of being responsible and knowing where your guns are and making sure they are properly secured,” Petillo said

Petillo pointed to recent stories in the Valley that’s occurred since Christian’s death such as in November when a 16-year-old boy was accidentally shot by a gun in Chandler that he and another 16-year-old boy were playing with.

In fact, in 2021, 56 children in the state died from a firearm injury and all of them were determined to be preventable, said Petillo, citing from the Arizona Department of Health Service’s latest annual child fatality report.

According to the nonprofit Brady: United Against Gun Violence, every day 22 children and teens are shot in the country.

“We have over 6,000 kids a year being injured or killed by guns and no other Western society deals with this,” Petillo said. “There are lots of really responsible gun owners out there. Unfortunately, there are also a significant number of gun owners who are not responsible.

“Responsible gun owners would be supporting this kind of legislation…because these are the types of things that will improve outcomes for kids and start reducing injuries and deaths in children associated with guns and actually help more of these gun owners be more responsible when they are not and help the gun industry. And ultimately it doesn’t infringe on anyone’s right to own a gun.”

Petillo acknowledged that some people may get “a little upset” when it comes to any sort of gun regulation but he compared the proposed legislation to laws on the book such as seat belt use and drunken driving – which save lives.

The Petillos also are working with the Song family in Connecticut on passing similar legislation nationally called Ethan’s Law, named after 15-year-old Ethan Song, who was fatally shot by an improperly stored gun at a friend’s house.

Petillo said friends are volunteering to help with the grassroots nonprofit and get the momentum going.

No Do-Overs will partner with other organizations for help in passing legislation, raise awareness and “help us educate and really draw attention to this,” Petillo said.

It will also lobby the technology industry to come up with solutions to provide more safety and security when it comes to firearms and kids, according to Petillo.

“All of us love our children,” he said. “And I think if we look at this from a human perspective and understand that this is a very small step that can actually save a substantial number of children’s lives without infringing on Second Amendment right, I think it makes sense.

“It can happen to anyone. This was not something we would ever think would happen to us. We didn’t have guns in our home. It was just a personal preference. At the end of the day this is a human discussion.

“It’s really a matter of our children and doing what is right for them.”