A Pennsylvania Dad Lost His Son to Gun Violence. Now He Fights for Stronger Gun Laws.

Terrance Slade Sr. at a Moms Demand Action rally outside the State Capitol in Harrisburg on May 22, 2023. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

June 13, 2023

Terrance Slade Sr. lost his only son, Teddy Slade, to gun violence almost 10 years ago. Now, he’s sharing his story as a gun violence survivor.

There is no word in the English language that can define the pain and heartache that occurs after losing a child.

That’s what Terrance Slade Sr. believes. That’s what he’s learned the hard way.

“As a parent, our mind can’t comprehend. We’re not wired to bury our children. Our children are supposed to bury us. So there’s not even a word in the entire dictionary for a parent losing a child. There’s nothing,” Slade Sr. said during a recent interview.

Slade Sr., who lives in the Harrisburg suburbs, lost his only son, Terrance “Teddy” Slade Jr., at 28, in an accidental shooting on October 10, 2013.

Slade Jr. was an aspiring musician who enjoyed creating rap music and was a father to a young daughter. Hundreds of people attended Slade’s funeral services and his presence within the community was sorely missed after his passing. 

No one was ever held accountable for the death of his son, and Slade Sr. said “someone needs to own up to what they did.”

Dauphin County officials determined that Slade Jr. died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to his leg, but he should have never had that gun in the first place, his dad argues. Slade Jr. was unable to legally own a firearm because of a previous felony conviction and acquired the gun through a third party, which is commonly referred to as a straw purchase. 

Despite the county’s official determination, Slade Sr. does not believe that his son pulled the trigger due to how he was positioned in the car and because there was no gun powder residue on him after he died. To Slade Sr.’s dismay, however, there was no way for anyone to be held accountable for the shooting since his son’s body was cremated before an autopsy was completed. 

Slade Sr. was already a gun safety advocate before his son died and got involved with the Mayors Against Gun Violence campaign in 2012. But after his son’s death, he ramped up his activism and joined Moms Demand Action. He now has a leadership role with the group as a “Survivor Membership Lead.”  

Due to the heartbreak of losing his son to gun violence — and his activism since — Slade Sr. has kept a close eye on Pennsylvania’s gun laws. This year, for the first time since his son’s death, there’s movement in what Slade Sr. considers the right direction.

In April 2023, Pennsylvania House Democrats advanced four gun safety bills out of the House Judiciary Committee, but only two of them passed the full House and were sent to the state Senate.  

The bills that passed the House would implement universal background checks on all gun sales—in order to close the gun show loophole—and establish extreme risk protection orders, also known as “red flag laws.” These laws allow family members and law enforcement to ask a judge for a court order to temporarily remove someone’s firearms if they are a risk to themselves or others.

Slade Sr. called the two bills that passed “common sense” measures.

“I don’t see what the debate was over either of those bills, and they just make sense,” he said. “If they could save a life, pass them. It shouldn’t take this much time and back and forth on party lines to make that happen.” 

A bill requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen guns in an effort to combat straw purchases failed on the House Floor by a 100-101 vote, while another requiring all guns to be sold with locking mechanisms was tabled. 

The future of the bills that passed remains murky as well; neither bill has gained traction in the Republican-controlled state Senate, despite pleas from Democrats.

While Republicans continue to block efforts to reduce gun deaths, Pennsylvanians like Slade Sr. who’ve lost loved ones to gun violence are left to try and pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

“I’m in my tenth year. I’m still on my medication because there are times my emotions are uncontrollable,” Slade Sr. said. “It could be a picture, a song, or a person. I don’t know what triggers it. I still think I see him in a crowd. That’s rough, and I was there. I know he’s gone.” 


  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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