Texas, Ohio shootings worry but don’t scare away area shoppers
Last weekend’s mass shootings at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, and on a street in downtown Dayton, Ohio, haven’t stopped area residents from shopping at local retail centers.
But it has made them more wary about what they may encounter in busy spaces where people congregate.
“It makes you more nervous and more alert,” Christina Angelona of Mt. Pleasant said as she arrived Friday afternoon at the Greengate Centre retail complex in Hempfield. “If you go to a concert, it’s always in the back of your mind if there’s going to be a bomb or a shooting.”
Behavior that she used to pass over as merely odd might warrant a second look now, said Angelona, 24. She recalled encountering someone who was “wearing a sweatshirt in the middle of summer. It was just very weird. Somebody might be hiding something under it.”
Daniel Hamilton felt a little more tense than usual Friday when he took his daughters — Danyca, 8, and Daliyah, 7 — to shop for school items at Pittsburgh Mills mall in Frazer.
Though the mall was far from crowded, he said the recent shootings, as well as area bomb threats and Downtown Pittsburgh stabbings, left him feeling a bit more nervous.
On carrying firearms
“Just because it’s quiet doesn’t mean something can’t happen. I definitely keep my eyes peeled,” said Hamilton, a 46-year-old machine operator who lives in New Kensington.
“I watch the news a lot, and I definitely thought about it before leaving the house,” Hamilton said. “I contemplated, if something like (a shooting) happened, what I would do. How would I protect my children? In places like this they can never leave my sight.”
Hamilton said he won’t consider carrying a gun to defend his family.
“I don’t like guns,” he said. “I just feel that carrying a gun would add to the problem. There should be a lot more gun regulation than there is. People carrying around assault rifles is just not right; those are war weapons.”
Elsewhere at the mall, 64-year-old Tony Carino, an attorney who lives in Leechburg, said he has a concealed weapons permit and carries a gun because he wants to be able to protect himself and his wife.
“I’ve carried a gun for at least 35 years. I don’t go anywhere without it,” said Carino, who added that he feels more skittish these days. “I don’t do well in crowds. You never know who’s in that crowd. I’m always looking for the odd character.”
Carino said gun control is not the solution when it comes to stopping mass shooters.
“I’m not for taking guns away from law-abiding citizens,” he said. “It’s about getting these mass shooters, who are obviously psychologically unbalanced, the mental health help that they need. But please don’t take the gun out of my hands, because I want to be able to defend myself.”
Greengate Centre shopper Kevin Snyder, 64, of Greensburg, said he has a permit to carry a gun but has taken firearms with him only for hunting or joining his wife at a local shooting range.
“If I pull a gun out, I’m going to use it and I’m going to kill somebody,” he said. “My life would have to really be threatened before I would ever consider that.”
Snyder said recent gun violence won’t keep him from attending events with large crowds including festivals, fairs and baseball and football games. But, he said, he is more conscious now of others around him.
“I watch my back more and look for an escape route,” he said. “I work for the unemployment office, where we have to be more vigilant now.”
After parking at the Greengate Centre, Phey Hoyman, 33, of Hempfield said he uses firearms only for hunting but has considered getting a carry permit to protect his wife from the threat of abduction by sex traffickers.
Sarah Hoyman, 31, said she isn’t interested in carrying a gun to protect herself.
“You can make yourself crazy being concerned about that,” she said. “It’s just not worth it.”
Mass shootings rare
Mass shooting incidents seem to have a “scary randomness” about them, said Sarah Daly, an assistant professor of criminology, law and society at Saint Vincent College. Still, she points out, “You’re more likely to die in a car accident than in a mass shooting.”
A recent report from the National Council for Behavioral Health notes that mass shootings accounted for less than two-tenths of 1 percent of homicides in the United States between 2000 and 2016.
People are more likely to intentionally kill themselves with a gun than to be killed by a gun in a mass shooting or other type of homicide, the report states.
However, data show that mass shootings are increasing in numbers and frequency, the council reports.
Daly acknowledged mass shootings are “seeming to happen more often,” especially with less than 24 hours separating the shootings that killed 31 this past weekend in Texas and Ohio. She expressed concern that the public’s reaction will follow an established pattern: “We’re sad about it and then, within two weeks, we don’t discuss it anymore.”
Prof: ‘Red flag’ laws work
Daly spoke in favor of proposed “red flag” legislation that would provide means for temporarily removing firearms from the home of someone who has been deemed a risk for harming themselves or others.
“It’s a really good compromise between Second Amendment rights and gun control advocates,” she said.
She said rates of homicide and suicide are reduced in states that have passed such laws.
Donna Casagrande, 59, of West Newton said she takes a middle stance in the debate over gun control.
“I feel each person has a right to arm themselves to protect themselves, but there needs to be gun control for the mentally ill,” she said, noting she supports more rigorous background checks for those buying firearms and a ban on sales of assault weapons.
Concern about mass shootings didn’t stop her from coming to the Greengate Centre on Friday.
“I don’t think that we should base our lives on what other people do,” she said. “Fate is fate. I’m in God’s hands.”
Tammy Weyandt, 56, of Arnold said she would like to see gun laws changed.
“I would like to see them take guns away from everyone,” she said.
Her daughter, 26-year-old Melissa Weyandt of Tarentum, agreed. She works as a supervisor for Sheetz in Lower Burrell and said recent events have altered her behavior.
“I carry Mace with me, which I didn’t do before,” she said.
Bernice Vrable, 83, of Lower Burrell said she is concerned about her two granddaughters who are grade school teachers.
“When there’s talk about arming the teachers with assault rifles, that makes me ill,” she said. “I hope they are allowed to pursue the career that they’ve chosen. I hope there is no fear that would scare them away from that.”
A 26-year-old Belgian woman named Laetitia, who is visiting the area and declined to give her last name, said she feels less safe visiting the United States than she has in years past.
“In Belgium, it’s a bit the same with all the terrorist attacks,” she said during a stop at Pittsburgh Mills.
Her host, a 63-year-old Belgian immigrant named Genevieve who lives in Hampton, said the events of the past week have her worried about going out to shop in certain places.
“I have been wondering these past few days: Am I going to come back home?”
While continuing to go about daily activities that bring them into public spaces, Daly advises that people can “be a little more vigilant. Know where your nearest exits are, and be aware of the people who are around you.”
She suggests, if people hear noises that might be gunfire, “don’t stand around and wait to figure it out. Get down and go to a safe place.”
And, if there are signs someone they know poses a risk for violence, she said, “Tell someone.”