'He's a traitor': Armed protesters ridicule Bill Peduto during gun rally in Pittsburgh
Mayor Bill Peduto was among the most unpopular people in Pittsburgh on Monday as hundreds of gun rights protesters openly carrying rifles, shotguns and pistols hurled insults and criticism at him and a proposed gun ban during a rally in front of the City-County Building in the city’s Downtown.
Gun proponents came from as far away as Chicago and accused Peduto and City Council of violating state law by proposing ordinances banning semi-automatic rifles and certain firearms accessories from the city limits.
They said the ordinances would do nothing to stop violent crime. They recited the Second Amendment and invoked Thomas Paine in declaring their right to bear arms. They dared Peduto to debate them face-to-face.
“He’s a traitor. He’s a coward. He’s a commie,” protesters yelled.
Speaker Kaitlyn Bennett, who gained fame when she posed for a graduation photo with an AR-10 rifle on Kent State’s campus, said the bills would make the city less safe.
“Rapists, murderers and thieves are all on the mayor’s side today,” she said. “They’re thankful. They’re saying, ‘Thank you, Mayor Peduto, for allowing me to go after my victims knowing they will be unarmed. Thank you.’”
The protest was otherwise peaceful. The city did not give an estimate on the size of the crowd.
The crowd included one counter protester silently holding a sign that read, “Keep your guns away from our kids.” Protesters jeered and shouted at her.
Bennett said the woman was looking for 15 minutes of fame.
“She just walked into a crowd of, what, 300 to 500 armed people?” she said.
Police made no arrests, and participants left without incident after a little more than an hour. Peduto was not in the building and unavailable for comment.
“The gun violence killing innocent people across the country, including 11 peacefully worshiping at Tree of Life in Squirrel Hill in October, has become a public health epidemic,” Peduto spokesman Tim McNulty said. “The few regulatory efforts proposed by Mayor Peduto and City Council are simply common sense measures meant to take the epidemic head-on.”
About 16 protesters later entered the City-County Building in an unsuccessful attempt to speak with Peduto and City Council members. Six of them were armed and checked their guns in a secure room before entering, according to building security.
“We simply wanted to come over and get any council member’s opinion or statement on do or do they not maybe support Mayor Peduto’s position, or anything that would help us understand where the council is coming from,” said Boyd Martin, who was among the group. “We got nothing.”
Council proposed the gun ban after the October murders of 11 people by a man armed with a semi-automatic rifle at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill.
Council members Corey O’Connor and Erika Strassburger, who represent portions of Squirrel Hill and proposed the ordinances, said they were determined to push the bills through to a vote.
“My council colleagues and the mayor and I are aware of the state laws that are on the books, and we happen to strongly disagree with them,” Strassburger said, referring to Pennsylvania’s preemption law prohibiting municipalities from regulating firearms. “If there’s not political will to make change, we’re ready and willing to make changes through the court system.”
O’Connor said he felt it was his duty to propose the ban. Bills like this, he said, could save lives by getting these weapons off the streets. He believed the bills would pass.
“I think, as an elected official, my job is to do everything I can to protect our residents,” he said.
State Rep. Aaron Bernstine, a Republican who represents northern Beaver County and parts of Butler and Lawrence counties, spoke during the protest and described gun ownership as a God-given right.
“Unfortunately the mayor and his cronies here in the city of Pittsburgh are attempting to infringe upon the rights of these law-abiding citizens, and all it is is a political stunt,” he said. “If we’re really going to address the issues, we need to increase penalties for those who commit crimes with weapons.”
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @bobbauder. Megan Guza is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Megan at 412-380-8519, email@example.com or via Twitter @meganguzaTrib.