Pittsburgh City Council’s passage last week of several restrictions on gun use was met with wide approval in Jewish Pittsburgh.
The gun laws were introduced in the wake of the Oct. 27 shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue building, which left 11 dead and seven wounded. The legislation, which was signed into law by Mayor Bill Peduto on Tuesday, would make it a criminal offense to “use” an assault weapon in a public place; ban armor-piercing ammunition and high-capacity magazines; and allow the temporary confiscation of guns from people who are found to be a danger to themselves or others.
Pro-gun advocates have threatened to sue to block the laws from taking effect on the grounds that state law prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms, and some Pittsburgh residents, with assistance from the NRA, filed a suit on Tuesday challenging the magazine ban.
Whether the laws hold up against a court challenge, Jon Tucker, a local member of the leadership council of the Republican Jewish Coalition, is pleased that City Council took action.
“There is no reason to have that type of a weapon in a civilized society,” said Tucker. “It’s purposeless.”
Tucker, who practiced for decades as an orthopedic surgeon, saw firsthand the devastation high-velocity assault rifles can wreak.
“When you see it with your own eyes, you gain a better understanding of the amount of energy these transmit, and the amount of damage they do to people,” Tucker said. “You are not allowed to build and carry bombs around — it’s the same reason, because they kill and maim indiscriminately.”
Even if the local law is overturned at the state level, Tucker said, “I think it has a significant effect on people’s thoughts. The big legislators in both the House and the Senate have to take note. You have to start somewhere, and I think Mayor Peduto and City Council should be applauded for their efforts. I think it is an important statement.”
Members of Congregation Dor Hadash, who have been working on initiatives to prevent gun violence even prior to the Oct. 27 massacre, also greeted the passage of the new laws with praise. The legislation was supported by Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, a group that started at Dor Hadash — one of the congregations attacked during the massacre — but now includes a wide range of members.
Although the legislation is limited in scope, Donna Coufal, a member of both Dor Hadash and Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, is personally pleased with the outcome, she said. “It’s a baby step along the way. This is where agreement was, so this is where you start.”
A grassroots effort can “snowball in a way it can’t on the national and state level,” Coufal explained. “I’m really proud of Squirrel Hill for the kind of response we’ve gotten and the action we’ve taken.”
Eve Wider, a member of the steering committee of Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, is “thankful to the Pittsburgh City Council for stepping up to do a job at which the state and federal governments have failed. It is clear that the majority of lawmakers in Harrisburg and Washington have abdicated their responsibility to keep us safe and the status quo of killing after killing after killing is unacceptable. It is time for state and federal lawmakers to follow the lead of our local leaders.”
If the legislation becomes law, Wider is confident it can help prevent the damage caused by mass shootings.
“Limits on the size of magazines can significantly decrease the number of people wounded or killed,” Wider said. “The damage that assault style rifles do to the human body is qualitatively different from and far more horrendous than the damage done by lower-velocity handguns. Banning these weapons will change the future for survivors of these sort of tragedies.”
A survivor of the Oct. 27 massacre, Barry Werber, a member of New Light, said he was in favor of the legislation.
“There is no need for any civilians to own a military-style weapon,” said Werber, who served in the U.S. Air Force. “They are only for killing. City Council did a great thing in light of what went on here, and what’s going on around the country.”
While Cristina Ruggerio, executive director of National Council of Jewish Women Pittsburgh, acknowledged that she doesn’t “have the expertise to predict whether this legislation will aid in preventing mass shootings,” she is nonetheless in favor of its passage.
“I think our community and many others around the country and around the world just want it [gun violence] to stop,” she said. “So we should do all we can to implement reasonable gun safety measures. And go to the ballot box in every election to make sure our voices are represented on these issues.”
Even if the law holds up in court, it will have “no effect” on crime, predicted Andy “Hirsh” Dlinn, president of the Pennsylvania Republican Leadership Council and a member of the NRA.
“Criminals don’t care about laws and restrictions,” he said. He sees the legislation as symbolic, enacted by City Council as a political move to show constituents that it was “doing something” in response to the massacre.
Criminals like the “crazy” attacker at Tree of Life “will continue to be around, unfortunately,” Dlinn said. “It’s tough. So, you do what you can.” PJC
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at