Representatives of Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, Bend the Arc: Pittsburgh, CeaseFirePA and local leaders gathered in Shadyside then again downtown on Oct. 24 to decry legislative inaction pertaining to gun violence.
“I’m angry that it has been a year since my synagogue was attacked by a man with assault style weapons who murdered 11 of my fellow congregants. And then in the bloody year since our tragedy, there has been gun massacre after gun massacre: 369 mass shootings since Tree of Life,” said Dana Kellerman, Squirrel Hill Stands’ policy director and executive board member of Congregation Dor Hadash. “There have been 81 people murdered by guns in Allegheny County so far this year. Since last Oct. 27, there has been gun suicide after gun suicide. Suicide constitutes almost two-thirds of gun deaths, largely preventable to us, which cut across every community.”
“In this past year, Congress and our state legislature have done absolutely nothing to make us safer. Nothing that strengthens background checks. No extreme risk orders to temporarily take away guns from dangerous people. Nothing on assault weapons, and nothing on high capacity magazines. This despite knowing full well that the overwhelming majority of Pennsylvanians support stronger gun laws, and despite knowing full well that stronger gun laws save lives,” added Kellerman.
“In my view, we must find a way to get guns away from those who are clearly a danger to themselves or others,” echoed state Sen. Wayne Fontana. “We are days away from the one-year anniversary of the tragic, senseless Tree of Life shooting. It’s imperative that we continue to fight this fight.”
In February 2019, Fontana introduced legislation, Senate Bill 293, that would grant family members and law enforcement the ability to “petition a court to temporarily suspend an individual’s access to firearms if there is documented evidence that an individual is threatening harm to themselves or others.”
“In nearly half of all mass shootings, including the one here in Squirrel Hill, the killer verbally expressed hateful threats and views aimed at harming people. There’s too many hate views. Certainly too much hate talk, and unfortunately those hate views and hate talk turn into hate actions, usually with guns in today’s world, and now in our city,” said Fontana.
“A bullet has no respect of person: black, white, red, yellow, gay, straight, gentile, Jew, rich or poor,” said Rev. Glenn Grayson, of Wesley Center AME Zion Church.
On Oct. 17, 2010, Grayson’s son was shot and killed at a post-homecoming party at California University of Pennsylvania.
“It was Oct. 17 for me and Oct. 27 for many who are here. May we collectively work together to stand, to rally, to pray, until real change comes,” said Grayson. “We pause. We remember the victims and demand stronger gun laws. That’s why we’re here today.”
Rob Conroy, CeaseFirePA’s organizing director, noted that although he wasn’t close with anyone murdered at the Tree of Life building, he is still shaken by the event a year later.
“I can’t speculate on how those closer to the victims or to that community are feeling, but I am definitely in a position to say one thing that I believe absolutely needs to be said: There is one thing that enabled that shooter to transform himself from a fulminating hate-filled man on his Facebook into a mass murderer, and that’s easy access to guns and ammunition that none of our founding fathers could ever have fathomed,” said Conroy.
On the afternoon of the 24th, dozens gathered at the North Shore Riverfront Park to recognize those lost in last October’s attack. Participants held signs with the words “In Memoriam” and “One year and no action.” Organizers arranged 11 empty chairs.
“This event was a way for our community to honor the victims of guns and demand action to prevent more tragedies,” said Lydia McShane, a Greenfield resident and Squirrel Hill Stands member, in a statement. “Common-sense gun violence prevention legislation saves lives. We need our leaders to be working every day to make sure no more lives are lost to gun violence that legislation could prevent.”
Kellerman noted several factors played into the event’s timing.
“We wanted to do a commemorative event because it will be one year this weekend, and the weekend has a huge amount of programming, and we wanted to be respectful of all the families and not in any way politicize the tragedy during that weekend. And we ran into Sukkot and Simchat Torah at the other end, which only left us two days,” she said. “It is very meaningful for me as a member of Congregation Dor Hadash to recognize the victims, but also to recognize that it has been a year with no action, and I think it is also a meaningful time in which legislators feel a bit more pressure to do something on something like a commemorative one year marker.” PJC
Adam Reinherz can be reached at email@example.com.