I write today with a heavy heart. Far too many times, we have all watched in horror as mass shootings play out across our nation. That nightmare has now come to pass in our own backyard.
To our friends and neighbors in Squirrel Hill, we admire your spirit, strength and unity. To members of the Tree of Life Synagogue, we offer our heartfelt sympathy and support as you recover from this harrowing tragedy. To members of the Jewish faith everywhere, we stand with you in solidarity. To our law enforcement and emergency responders, we salute you and thank you for your heroism. We often take for granted your sacrifice and service while all along knowing that you are the literal lifeline of our communities.
Most of all, to the victims and their families, our hearts are broken for you. It is always difficult to say a premature goodbye to a loved one or watch a family member lie injured in a hospital bed, but the circumstances that you have been dealt are unfathomable to most of us. May you find peace and comfort someplace within the darkness of this senseless act of violence.
A synagogue is a place of peace and reflection, representative of a sanctuary for those practicing their faith. However, on Saturday morning, congregants were victims of bigotry, violence and terror. It was the largest, most heinous act of violence against the Jewish people in the history of our nation. Right here at home. Hate has no place in Pittsburgh or anywhere.
Now that mass gun violence has infiltrated our beloved city within the borders of our Commonwealth, I call on my colleagues in the General Assembly to work together on solutions. While I believe this issue is best addressed at the federal level to ensure uniformity from state to state, “leaders” in Washington always block deliberation. Their failure to do their job and advance commonsense safety measures is why it’s upon us to do what’s right for the health, safety and welfare of our citizens.
Following the tragic events in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, I said enough is enough. That’s why I introduced a package of legislation aimed at addressing gun violence. Senate Bill 17 would institute the Pennsylvania Assault Weapons Ban. These military-grade weapons have no place in civilian life and are unnecessary for self-defense. These guns were made to kill people quickly and efficiently, as proven once again on Saturday.
The second measure is Senate Bill 18. It would establish a system in our Commonwealth for the implementation of Extreme Risk Protection Orders. These orders can empower those who are close to an individual in crisis to ask a judge to temporarily remove the person’s guns. This system focuses on individuals who are exhibiting dangerous behavior and have been demonstrated to be an effective means of temporarily preventing people in crisis from having access to guns, while respecting rights to due process. Under current practice, if someone reports their fears to law enforcement, police in most states may not have the authority to intervene, resulting in preventable tragedies. This particular perpetrator had conveyed publicly his views of hatred and superiority on social media platforms, including just minutes prior to the attack. The extreme risk protection order legislation I introduced could help prevent some of these cases. How much more commonsense can it get than that?
Because we find ourselves nearing the end of the current legislative session, I realize critics will say there is not enough time for consideration at this point. That said, I assure you that I intend to reintroduce the legislation and push the issue in the upcoming legislative session. At the very least, public hearings should be held in order to give lawmakers, stakeholders and the public the opportunity to examine the issue and finally have a meaningful conversation.
For those who might predictably say that I am politicizing a tragedy, particularly fellow elected officials, I say that your inaction and resistance to improvements in our laws is politics at its very worst. Before anyone accuses me of ill intention, I do not seek or wish to infringe upon any law-abiding citizens’ rights. The perpetrator of the weekend’s shootings was the one who infringed upon the constitutionally protected rights under the First Amendment of everyone in that synagogue. And keep in mind our Declaration of Independence. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are three examples of our unalienable rights which governments were created to protect.
I readily admit that I, like most, don’t have all the answers. Or do I know if some of the safeguards I stand behind will even work. But what I do know is that we must do something. Isn’t it worth a try? If new measures are put in place and don’t result in any improvements, then we can reevaluate. The point is that we must do something. This growing epidemic has hit home. To continue to sit by and do nothing is a dereliction of duty. It is ignoring our most fundamental responsibility to our citizens.
Our constituents deserve much more than ignorance and complicity. And so many times we hear calls for lawmakers to be “courageous” in the wake of these shootings. Doing what’s right to address what has become a public health and safety crisis is not courageous. It’s the right thing to do. Working to secure the further safety of our people is not a “wedge” issue. It is what we were elected to do.
We cannot let the aftermath of this event become another blindly complicit stain on our nation. Not here in the Steel City and Keystone state. We owe it to the victims of this latest tragedy. We owe it to their families and friends. We owe it to their neighbors and colleagues. In their names, we must come together to protect others from their own fate.
In the meantime, we must continue on Pittsburgh Strong and Pennsylvania Proud.