The forum at East Liberty Presbyterian Church invited politicians, candidates running for office, and gun violence experts and activists to voice their positions on gun control, solutions to ending gun violence and how to fight against the National Rifle Association, which is resistant to gun control. Among the most popular views were support for universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.
“The founding fathers did not foresee these weapons of mass destruction where as fast as you can pull your finger you can fire out 50 bullets,” said local Congressman Mike Doyle, who added that he wears his F rating from the NRA with pride.
While many focused on federal gun control legislation, Pittsburgh City Council already passed their own gun control legislation in 2008. However, the lost and stolen handgun ordinance has yet to be enforced due to questions of its legality against state law.
“The statistics of gun violence taking place in my district were staggering; they were appalling,” said District 3 City Councilman Bruce Kraus about why he supported the legislation. “Those personal stories of people who are facing the slaughter of their loved ones keep me up at night.”
Others on the panel said government should look at the causes behind gun violence, especially the lack of economic opportunity in many Black communities.
“If we’re going to change this we can’t forget about the everyday violence in our streets,” said State Rep. Jake Wheatley who is a candidate for mayor. “The harder part is how do we get at the culture of violence and do we put our resources behind it.”
This culture also includes a “no-snitching” code prevalent in many communities. This code accounts in some part for the many unsolved murders in the city, including the death of Charlene Walters who was shot and killed at a crowded youth football game in October.
“There’s a reason why there are so many homicides in some neighborhoods and not others and part of that is telling the truth,” said Jay Gilmer, director of the Pittsburgh Initiative to Reduce Crime. “There are a lot of unsolved homicides in Pittsburgh. There’s a lot of killers walking the street.”