Pittsburgh Mayor to Haaretz: It's Wrong to Link Synagogue Shooting to Lack of Guards

'I would rather tackle the issues that led to this incident,' Mayor Bill Peduto says after gunman kills at least 11 in anti-Semitic attack

Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto near the city's Tree of Life Synagogue on October 27, 2018.
Amir Tibon

PITTSBURGH – The mayor of Pittsburgh told Haaretz on Saturday that he rejects President Trump’s claim that the massacre at the city's Tree of Life synagogue might have been averted if an armed guard had been present.

“The idea that we as a country have evolved to place where every church, synagogue or mosque will need to have armed security is wrong,” said Mayor Bill Peduto, who spoke with Haaretz at the site of the Saturday morning terror attack that claimed the lives of at least 11 people. “I would rather tackle the issues that led to this incident,” he added.

Peduto, a member of the Democratic Party, has been mayor since 2014. On Saturday, following the shooting in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood, he said that the most urgent priority for his city was to assist the families of those who were killed or injured. “Our mode of operation right now is victims first,” he explained. “We need to make sure that this entire city is supportive of them. It’s not going to be easy.”

Saturday was “one of the darkest days in the history of Pittsburgh,” Peduto said. “We’ve been ripped apart. This is going to be a very difficult time for our city. But we’ll be there to help each other and lift each other up, and pull people together.” The conversation with Peduto took place shortly after a rally against hatred, which was attended by thousands of local residents.

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When asked about President Trump’s comments earlier in the day, which claimed the attack might have been stopped if an armed guard had been present, Peduto said the remarks were wrong. “There should be places in this country that are sacred and that nobody would ever consider harming,” the mayor said. “If we get to a point where every synagogue needs armed security guards, that’s not the kind of county or city I would want to live in. We need to focus on solving the problems that led us to this point.”

Tree of Life Congregation Synagogue in Pittsburgh, October 27, 2018
Amir Tibon

Peduto said there are two questions that need to be asked: “Why would somebody do this to his fellow Pittsburghers, and why would that person have the ability to have access to weapons that make it so easy to carry out such an attack? That’s what we should be asking, not why there weren’t armed security guards at a synagogue where people come to pray.”

Gun laws that allow individuals to easily acquire semi-automatic weapons, Peduto said, need to be urgently addressed. “Mass shootings in this country, no matter where the crime had been, have one common denominator – the accessibility of guns that have been designed to kill people,” he said. While Saturday’s attack was the deadliest attack in years targeting the American Jewish community, and also the deadliest attack in years in the Pittsburgh area, 2018 has seen many other mass shootings in which dozens of people were killed by American citizens.

Peduto asked to take the opportunity of giving an interview to an Israeli newspaper to “tell readers in Israel how important the Jewish community has been to the city of Pittsburgh. This city was built by the Jewish community. Ever since the mid-19th century, this community has been an important part of this city. There are Jewish businesses that were built by immigrants in the 1930s and are still active and popular to this day. And when we look to the future, we see how our Jewish community today is leading the science and medical industries that are building the next century of economic development for our city.”

Pittsburgh, Peduto said, is “a small city, where people know each other and each other’s families. When someone is hurt here, everyone is hurt. To our Jewish neighbors I want to say – Pittsburgh loves you. Pittsburgh hurts with you. And we are going to bring in other communities to work together – synagogues, churches, mosques. This city is stronger than hate.”

In the immediate future, however, the city is increasing police presence next to Jewish institutions, as well as institutions of other religions that have been “the target of hate in recent months,” as Peduto puts it. The long-term challenge for his city and for the U.S., he added, is “to combat hate with love, compassion and understanding. That’s the only way we’ll be able to end it.”