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Pittsburgh officials relive Tree of Life pain after California mass shooting

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, 12:15 p.m.

The news hit Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto’s chief of staff, Dan Gilman, like a gut punch.

Police Chief Scott Schubert said he was shocked.

Public Safety Director Wendell Hissrich thought it couldn’t be true.

Then reality set in: Twelve days after a mass shooting at a Squirrel Hill synagogue, another gunman killed 12 in Thousand Oaks, Calif. The shooter, 28-year-old Ian David Long, apparently killed himself after the rampage.

“It was a punch to the gut,” Gilman said. “To say that after the horrible killings we experienced in this city that now there’s been one with even more victims in less than two weeks is heart wrenching.”

Hissrich said he received a page from the Department of Homeland Security reporting multiple victims in a shooting at a California bar. He thought it was a mistake, a repeat of the message that went out on Oct. 27 after 11 people were murdered while worshiping at the Tree of Life Congregation.

“Over the past two weeks we’ve lost 23 lives to senseless tragedies,” Hissrich said. “Where’s it going to stop? Last night you had college students out having a good time, and somebody just came in and started firing a handgun. I think it’s just opened our eyes that these kinds of incidents can happen anywhere at any time, whether it be a synagogue, whether it be a nightclub or a bar.”

The officials expressed deep condolences to those in California and said they are reaching out to Ventura County community leaders and law enforcement with offers to help. A Ventura County Sheriff’s deputy was killed in the line of duty when he ran toward the gunfire at the Borderline Bar and Grill.

“I feel horrible for all the victims and people that were in that bar and their families and the sergeant who was killed going into gunfire to save others, “Schubert said. “I was getting messages from all over the country with ours. We want to reciprocate and reach out and give our condolences. If there’s anything they need from us, we’re more than willing to help and stand with them as they go through this difficult time.”

Four officers were shot and wounded during the carnage in Pittsburgh. One remains hospitalized. Federal prosecutors have indicted Baldwin native Robert Bowers, 46, on 44-counts in what they have described as a hate crime. They plan to seek the death penalty. Bowers allegedly shouted anti-Semitic slurs when taken into custody.

Gilman, who is Jewish, lives in Squirrel Hill and represented the neighborhood as a city councilman before taking on his current duties, said the Mayor’s Office and City Council are considering legislation to address gun violence. Councilman Corey O’Connor, who represents parts of Squirrel Hill, has called for stiffer gun regulation.

Pittsburgh has had an ordinance on the books for years sponsored by then-Councilman Peduto that requires gun owners to report lost and stolen handguns to police. The city has never enforced it because of lawsuits filed by gun right’s groups, including the NRA, and superseding state law that prohibits municipalities from enacting gun regulations.

“We’ve had conversations with Councilman O’Connor and others to talk about what the best step is,” Gilman said. “We want to do it in a unified way, potentially with other cities, with other communities, with leaders at other levels of government. This isn’t a Pittsburgh issue. This isn’t an Allegheny County issue. It’s not a Pennsylvania issue, but it’s time that this country starts to take a stand.”

Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.

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