By Ollie Gratzinger | Opinions Editor
On April 9, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto signed into action legislation that would restrict the use of assault-style weapons, like the one used to kill 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue last October. We unfortunately live in a time in which every public event comes with the fear of horrible violence; this gun law is the first step in restoring a sense of safety that many haven’t felt in a long while.
After a similar tragedy befell New Zealand and 50 Muslim worshipers lost their lives to a white supremacist, the country’s parliament voted 119-1 in favor of banning assault weapons. Once the law receives approval from the governor general, the law will ban the majority of assault-style and semiautomatic guns throughout the whole of New Zealand.
This is the kind of common-sense gun control that we ought to implement throughout the U.S., and the kind that Pittsburgh lawmakers are attempting to create in our city. America has had more mass shootings than any other country in the world, with more than 300 incidents in 2018. In almost every case that resulted in numerous fatalities, the murder weapon was an assault-style rifle.
It isn’t like the mayor is trying to take away all your guns, despite the rhetoric being spat around by gun-rights activists. Handguns for self-defense are still protected. A rifle for hunting? No one at the lawmaking level has any real issue with that; they aren’t the things that people are taking into crowds and killing people with.
The issue is semiautomatic and assault-type guns — weapons designed for the sole intention of killing as many people as possible, as quickly as possible. These are weapons of war, weapons that are only designed to hurt people en masse. This type of firearm, unfeasible to the Founding Fathers, was not what they had in mind when they crafted the Second Amendment. It took an average of 20 seconds to load and fire a musket. It’s fair to say that today’s assault rifles are a far cry from the technology of the Revolutionary War.
The government is not going to barge into your house and take your antique pistol. Legislation like what Peduto is trying to pass will keep our community safer by limiting access to weapons that no one outside of a warzone really needs.
The events of Oct. 27 changed Pittsburgh in ways that are subtle, but ample. At the entrance of major venues like the Benedum Center, there are lines of metal detectors and security guards searching bags. Memorials pop up with the names of the fallen 11, and signs in Squirrel Hill storefronts read, “Stronger Than Hate” and “Love Thy Neighbor.”
Outside of synagogues, guards stand at attention, opening the doors for service-goers. They’re friendly enough, and they start to recognize the regulars with firm smiles and pleasant greetings, but that isn’t the point. It’s always easy to tell that they wish they didn’t have to be there as much as we wish we didn’t need them.
The week after the Tree of Life shooting, I sat inside of my synagogue with a class studying Torah, just like we did every Thursday night. It was quieter. No one really knew what to say. The rabbi seemed tired. We heard in the distance an indistinct voice shouting from somewhere on the upper floors of the temple. Our class was in the basement, and in retrospect, it was just spirited conversation echoing through the empty halls of a huge, stone building, seeming louder than it really was. But there was a moment of silent horror, of nameless fear, in which we all wondered the same thing: What do we do if the next sound we hear is gunfire? I had never wondered that before.
Banning assault-style weapons won’t fix the larger systemic issue of hate and the crimes it births, but it’s a start. It’s a step in the right direction. In banning these guns, we’re acknowledging that there’s a problem, and we’re doing something about it. It only took one tragedy for New Zealand to take action, with much less resistance than we’re facing in Pittsburgh. Thoughts and prayers are nice and all, but they don’t fix society when it breaks. Laws do that. Laws can change things, so long as we let them.