Mass Shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue: An Ironic Tale of Death and Familiarity

BY: NICK SAWICKI, EDITOR-IN-CHIEF

Upon first hearing about the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill, my initial reaction was one of utter shock. Parkland, Orlando, Las Vegas, Sandy Hook – I was around for those tragedies and remember feeling chills as news of the incidents unfolded. But this time it felt different. This time the CNN/Fox/MSNBC news anchors weren’t reporting from all the way across America in some unfamiliar place. They were right here in Pittsburgh. Right here in my city. My home.

It’s funny how a simple shift in perspective can so drastically transform your outlook on a particular issue. While I’m lucky not to have known any of the eleven victims, it’s an eerie feeling knowing that half of my friends live within blocks of the Tree of Life Synagogue, some right across the street – that right down the road, my friends at CMU and Pitt were on lockdown because a white supremacist had decided that he didn’t appreciate how HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) was “bringing in invaders to kill our people.” It really hit home this time, in a way that the other larger, more deadly mass shootings never did. It made me take pause and re-evaluate how I think of gun laws and the epidemic of gun violence affecting communities across America.  

Whenever I hear about mass shootings or gun violence I’m always angered to think that we’ve allowed something so sinister to become so prolific in American society. But gradually that anger turns to confliction – a dichotomy between the need for increased gun control (an overly general term that is only used to make pathos-laden rhetorical arguments) and the ineffectiveness of gun-free zones in America or Australia’s gun buyback program that did practically nothing to lower gun-related homicide rates. For years, I told myself that it was ok to harbor this ambivalence because I couldn’t vote. But things are different now that I’m 18 and eligible to vote in the upcoming midterm elections this November. I (and many other young voters) must now choose which side to support in the wake of such a catastrophic act of hate. And let me tell you, the decision is not an easy one to make.        

As a staunch moderate, I deeply despise how Democrats always come out in full force after such a tragedy and spew their anti-Trump, anti-Republican, rhetoric all over social media because I know that within a few days, most people who do so will have already moved on to the next major headline and forgotten all about the tragic events of the week prior. Such social media posts are overly sanctimonious to me. Those one-off 150 character Tweets or Facebook rants do nothing but politicize a tragedy and only serve to marginalize those very people you must convince to support your cause. Furthermore, they never seem to offer any solutions: “this must stop. #EndGunViolenceNow. Fuck Trump and the Republicans. Vote in November.” Like…Ok…yeah… we all want mass shootings to end now, but do any of you have any idea why voting for Democrats in November will help to end gun violence and mass shootings? Or are you just going through the motions of retweeting or sharing someone else’s post because it’s what everyone else has been doing. Teens do this to the nth-degree on social media and then they never follow through at the ballot box. Ask most teens about the specifics of gun policy or politics and you’ll find that they’re able to rattle off some CNN headline that they remember popping up on their phone at some point, but don’t actually know why Republicans are such villains from a policy standpoint or why Democrats have all of the answers or what Democrats are even proposing past the general 10-second campaign soundbite of “gun control” that insults all of our intelligence.     

That being said, I equally abhor how Republicans continue to stick their heads in the sand after every mass shooting and defend their 2nd amendment right like their lives depend on it. While yes, a very few number of people’s lives have depended on their right to bear arms, everyone knows that there is absolutely no need for any civilian to own an AR-15 assault-style weapon (the mass shooter weapon of choice and gun that Robert Bowers used to kill 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue). Sure, it’s your 2nd amendment right to own an AR-15, but in my opinion, the statute of limitations on purchasing such weapons has long passed. Before 2004, the AR-15 was banned from civilians anyway, so why must we have them now? It’s really senseless to keep legally selling AR-15’s and other similar assault weapons when we continue to see them being used time and time again in mass shootings.

Furthermore, when President Trump makes comments like, “This has very little to do with gun laws, If they had protection inside then perhaps results would have been far better” the underlying message is something along the lines of “don’t blame the Republicans, it was the fault of Tree of Life for not having better security or people for not having more guns.” In a perverse way, Trump’s statement is accurate – increased gun control legislation after Parkland or Orlando would have done nothing to stop Bowers in this particular instance. But I find it very hard to ignore the fact that Bowers committed this hate crime in the wake of the package bomber who was emboldened to act because of President Trump’s rhetoric. While Bowers claims to not support the President because he “surrounds himself with too many Jews,” it would be naive to argue that there wasn’t a connection between Trump’s recent caravan rhetoric, the package bomber, and Bowers. This constant deflection of blame across the board with Republicans and unwillingness to accept responsibility for the rhetoric of the President is sickening and defies common sense. There is no logical reason why we shouldn’t have a national gun registry, no reason why we shouldn’t have more comprehensive background checks and tests for people who wish to purchase firearms, no reason why AR-15 assault weapons should be sold to civilians, and no reason why Trump should continue to rally his base using divisive rhetoric at the expense of the safety of Americans. The whole situation is rather ironic if you think about it; Trump argues that American lives are in danger because of illegal immigrants, yet Bowers, an American, kills other Americans to protect Americans from being killed by illegal immigrants… think about that.   

So how will all of this affect my vote as a member of Generation Z and a high school student? Honestly, it’s really difficult to say. In general, I lean socially liberal, supporting issues such as marriage equality, a woman’s right to choose, the abolition of the death penalty, and stem-cell research, while leaning fiscally conservative, believing that the government needs to drastically reduce spending, cut welfare, and lower taxes across the board. But the real question is, which issues are affecting me and other members of Generation Z today? It’s all well and good to vote on ideological grounds, but at the end of the day, we must vote on the issues that affect our lives on a daily basis, on issues that are in our best interest to address here and now. I’m reminded of this every day at school as I walk from building to building on my high school campus, having to scan my phone to open the doors that, for over a century, stood unlocked throughout the school day. And I’ll be reminded of that every time I drive past the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill.     

Just as it was starting to appear that we as a nation had healed from the horrific Parkland school shootings that took place on Valentine’s Day this past February, we find ourselves staring shell-shocked at the same gaping wound as before, only to discover that after a few months, it had never really healed – we had just looked away. Pain that was at one point so searing and omnipresent that it forced Americans into the streets to protest had faded over time and eventually we started to forget about what once caused us so much grief and sorrow. The Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh reminded us that this wound was still very much present – an unsightly crater of putrid flesh and oozing pus, festering from months of inattention. This jolt of pain reminds us to be introspective in our democratic pursuits, to see that we failed yet again to prevent another senseless murder of innocent Americans.

So what are we going to do about it this time?

 

Image Credits: https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tree-life-synagogue-deadly-shooting-n925291