The Pittsburgh synagogue shooting’s toll on the gun debate

A mass shooting that hits close to home


(Caroline O’Connor/ Daily Collegian)

By Clara Goldberg, Collegian Columnist

On Saturday, Oct. 27, I was asleep in my room until noon. I rolled out of bed and grabbed a late breakfast at Franklin Dining Commons while still in my pajamas. My friends and I hung out in a dorm for a couple hours, and I eventually made my way out for a birthday lunch with a group of friends in Amherst Center. We came back to our building around 5 p.m. and collapsed in the lounge from our long day. It wasn’t until then that I decided to check Facebook and do my usual mindless scrolling.

However, the first thing I saw was not mindless at all. Instead, it was an article about a shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue during Shabbat services that very morning. As I continued to scroll, I saw the same posts over and over: There had been a shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, killing 11 members of the heavily-Jewish community in Squirrel Hill. My mind began to race, trying to process the horrific act, while the people sitting around me continued to talk about their plans for the night, last minute Halloween costume ideas and other general weekend things. My first thought was that my aunt and uncle live in Pittsburgh, so I immediately called my mother. She confirmed they are not members of the impacted community. I then changed my profile picture on Facebook to say, “#Together Against Anti-Semitism,” and I sent articles to friends to make sure they were aware of the events of the day.

I took the steps I could to show my concern and love for the victims, but I later realized that I absorbed the knowledge of the shooting relatively calmly. This is because I have become immune to the news of mass shootings. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been 306 mass shootings, 12,353 deaths from guns and 48,555 total incidents of gun violence in America in 2018 (as of Nov. 5). Furthermore, an analysis by the Washington Post shows that there has been a general increase in mass shootings around the country in recent years.

Every time I hear news of another shooting, I mourn, I get angry and then it passes within a couple of weeks. The calls for gun reform shift out of the mainstream media as the United States gets swept up with the latest information about other sensational stories. I admit that I participate in this quick and unsuccessful attempt to bring light to gun violence in America, but the most recent tragedy has affected me in a more personal way than the others have; the Pittsburgh shooting was targeted at my community. This was a hate crime committed by a man who said “All Jews must die” as he was shooting. My aunt and uncle could have easily belonged to this synagogue. I could have easily belonged to this synagogue. This could have been any Jewish community, and I just happened to be lucky that it was not mine. This attack is “believed to be the deadliest on the Jewish community in US history,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

This is hard for me to believe, because I and many people I know have never faced anti-Semitism growing up in Massachusetts and suburban Boston. I have been stuck in a bubble where I am privileged enough to be part of a community where Judaism is accepted and even considered a majority. I have also been lucky enough to grow up in a safe community where gun violence is not present.

When we look at our ever-polarizing country and the rhetoric thrown around by powerful leaders, it’s not as hard to imagine why someone was inspired to participate in such a hateful act. Right now, our country is experiencing an internal fight between religions, ideologies, races, classes and genders. Simultaneously, we are seeing citizens buying guns and using them to express their hatred. There are obviously millions of people in the country who participate in polite and respectful debate, but when there are such open gun laws and openly polarized opinions, it is easy for those select few who are filled with hate to act on it.

In this case, as in many other cases, an AR-15 assault riflewas the weapon of choice for the shooter, althoughthree Glock .357 handguns were also used. However, all the guns used by the Pittsburgh shooter were obtained legally. Some argue that protection inside the temple would have helped the situation and saved lives, but I think it is time for the United States to take a really hard look at gun reform. On my part, I am going to try my best to keep up to date on the process of gun reform in the coming weeks, even as the news of the Pittsburgh shooting floats out of the public eye.

Clara Goldberg is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]