Residents argue for and against Pittsburgh gun ban during public hearing
Scores of people stood for hours Thursday night in a reconfigured first floor of Pittsburgh’s City-County Building to argue for three minutes — for or against — the city’s proposed firearms ban.
They included military veterans, attorneys, moms, dads, friends of people killed in Squirrel Hill’s Tree of Life synagogue on Oct. 27, and a 6-year-old who pleaded for protection. There were 101 people registered to speak.
Gun activists condemned Pittsburgh City Council and Mayor Bill Peduto for proposing legislation that would ban certain semi-automatic rifles and firearms ammunition and accessories from within city limits. A third bill would allow courts to temporarily remove guns from a person deemed to be a threat.
Opponents cited a state law that prohibits municipalities from regulating firearms. They threatened to file criminal charges against council members and the mayor if the bills are approved.
“You are advocating lawlessness and creating a mandate for civil disobedience,” said Val Fennell of Kennedy Township. “Our rights are not up for compromise or discussion. We demand that you withdraw all of these illegal ordinances or face criminal charges.”
Walter Gibson of North Versailles said his father was fatally shot in 1979, but said he supports gun ownership.
“The blame lies with the coward who shot my father from behind,” he said. “I have guns. It’s patently unfair for you to try to punish me for the actions of others.”
Supporters of the legislation said it’s time for government to take action.
Carolyn Ban of Squirrel Hill, a member of the Dor Hadash congregation that worships at Tree of Life, recounted the tragedy and said semi-automatic rifles should be banned.
“In the face of this attack, we have come together to say, ‘Enough — No more mass murder,” she said. “Ideally, we do this at the national level, but that is not happening. Nor is it happening on the state level. It is necessary to start at the local level to stand up against the scourge of weapons.”
Hannah Dworin, 6, of Churchill said she and other students at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill have been afraid since the Tree of Life shootings.
“I hope you will help protect me and the other kids at Community Day School by stopping people from getting guns,” she said.
City officials said they took the unprecedented step of holding the hearing on the first floor because of a 200-person occupancy limit in Council Chambers, where public hearings are normally held, and to ensure public safety. Numerous police officers were stationed throughout the crowd and the building.
Council members sat at tables forming a U at the Grant Street end of the building. Speakers were required to stand in a line designated by rope barriers before offering testimony.
“You can’t hear anything at all back here,” said Nicholas Wells of Pittsburgh’s North Side, who was waiting with several friends in back of the line.
Council President Bruce Kraus of the South Side threatened at the beginning of the hearing to have disorderly spectators removed.
“This is an official hearing of Pittsburgh City Council,” he said. “Everyone who is here has the right to have council hear their comment in an environment that is not threatening. This is not theater.”
Earlier in the day, Joshua Prince, an attorney with Firearms Industry Consulting Group, wrote a letter on behalf of the Allegheny County Sportsmen’s League and Firearm Owners Against Crime, demanding that the hearing be moved to Council Chambers. He said he received no response from council.
“The sole purpose of moving the public hearing form the chamber to the lobby seems to be designed to suppress the voices of those wishing to be heard while precluding the public from being able to watch the public hearing,” he wrote in part.
Bob Bauder is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Bob at 412-765-2312, [email protected] or via Twitter @bobbauder.