Members of Pittsburgh’s Jewish community discussed domestic terrorism with Democratic members of Congress on Wednesday. U.S. Representatives on the Committee on Homeland Security came to Pittsburgh as part of a series of meetings with communities affected by mass shootings.
“I’m a victim, a witness, and survivor of the worst attack in a synagogue in the history of the United States,” said Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, who testified before the committee along with Mayor Bill Peduto, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Pittsburgh Police Chief Scott Schubert and others.
“[Hate speech] is a severe choice of words that usually will lead to violent actions, as was the case in the Tree of Life shooting,” Myers said. “I call all of our elected leaders to task for this epidemic,” Myers said, criticizing elected officials in Washington, D.C. who condone hate speech, but not calling out any by name. “When you use [hate speech] against one another, you model uncivil discourse for all Americans. As our leaders you are teaching us that it is acceptable to behave this way, and it’s simply not.”
Since the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill last year, there have been dozens of mass shootings. In one of them, an August shooting in which 22 people died, language in the manifesto of the suspected gunman echoed President Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric. The gunman accused in the Tree of Life shooting, Robert Bowers, purportedly posted anti-Semitic messages online prior to the attack.
Other speakers focused on the weaponry used by shooters.
“We’re never going to eliminate hate, that’s not going to happen,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, “But we can eliminate or try to eliminate some of the equipment and weaponry, and have some background checks that can limit some of the things that are happening.”
Suggestions ranged from limiting high-capacity magazines to bans on assault weapons and expanding background checks. Myers himself suggested a weapons buy-back program.
“Nobody knows of a reasonable reason, that I can hear, why any citizen should be able to own a semi-automatic weapon,” he said. “If you need that to hunt deer, you need a new avocation.”
House Democrats passed sweeping gun control legislation in February that would require a background check for every gun purchased, but the Republican-controlled Senate has not taken up that legislation.
Wednesday’s meeting was hosted by U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, who represents Pittsburgh.