Congressional committee on Homeland Security holds roundtable in Pittsburgh |
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Tom Davidson

If the problem involved anything but guns, something would have been done to stop it long ago, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto told three visiting members of Congress.

“There would not only be hearings like this, but actions taken,” Peduto said Wednesday, as the city hosted a roundtable of the House Committee on Homeland Security in City Council chambers. Peduto and other Pittsburgh officials shared their ideas for what national leaders can do to stem the epidemic of mass shootings in American cities.

The lawmakers visited Pittsburgh, in part, to hear what officials have learned over the course of the past year, said U.S. Rep. Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., the committee chairman.

He was joined by U.S. Reps. Donald Payne Jr., D-N.J. and Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. Rep. Mike Doyle, who represents the Pittsburgh area, is not on the committee but also attended.

Peduto and Pittsburgh police Chief Scott Schubert, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, Allegheny County Police Chief Coleman McDonough, Tree of Life Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh President Jeffrey Finkelstein spoke to the members of the committee.

They said measures could include enacting some level of gun control, especially on semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines; providing more funding for small police departments like those that exist outside Pittsburgh’s city limits in Allegheny County; and somehow finding ways to tackle the increase in hate speech that leads to hate crimes.

“Our nation is suffering an epidemic of uncivil discourse,” Myers said.

Peduto said he’s now a member of a group of mayors who have had to deal with mass shootings. When a gunman shot and killed worshippers last year inside the Tree of Life synagogue, Peduto received calls from other mayors who have had mass shootings in their cities. Now, Each time a mass shooting happens, Peduto calls the mayor of that town to offer advice, words of sympathy and encouragement, he said.

“Each time you do that, it brings back the incident that occurred in your own city,” Peduto said.

On Oct. 27, 2018, a gunman entered the Squirrel Hill synagogue, killed 11 people and injured seven others in the deadliest attack on a Jewish congregation in American history.

Those directly impacted by the violence of that day still struggle with it, Doyle said, as do others in Pittsburgh who are still coming to terms with with the idea that it happened here.

“If it can happen in Pittsburgh, it can happen anywhere,” Schubert said.

Since the shooting, Myers said he’s been supported by a “vast global hug” of support. In Pittsburgh, he felt that support before the shooting as well, Myers said.

Myers suggested people stop using the word hate. He called it a four-letter word that needs to be tossed in “our mental wastebaskets” because speaking about hatred leads to violent actions.

Among the problems, according to Payne, is convincing Americans there is a problem.

“It’s tough to get the American people and leaders to acknowledge the issue of domestic terrorism,” Payne said. “It’s time to look inward and understand that we have a problem in the homeland.”

He watched coverage of the Tree of Life shootings and was moved.

“These circumstances, these issues, these situations impact me deeply,” Payne said.

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