Three years since Tree of Life. All that’s changed are the names of the dead | Wednesday Coffee

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and his allies have made a renewed call for passage of anti-gun violence bills. The Legislature won’t vote on them. Again

October 27, 2021 7:08 am

Gov. Tom Wolf speaks during a state Capitol news conference on Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2021 (Capital-Star photo).

Good Wednesday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

Three years ago today, a madman stormed into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh’s leafy and lovely Squirrel Hill neighborhood. And there, armed with an assault rifle and several handguns, he opened fire, killing 11 worshippers gathered for Sabbath services, and leaving six more wounded.

The gunman, whose name doesn’t matter, told police that he “wanted all Jews to die” and that Jews “were committing genocide against his people.”

Three years ago. Since then, Pennsylvania lawmakers have done almost nothing to make it harder for cold-hearted murderers, the mentally ill, and the potentially suicidal to get their hands on weapons.

Three years.

But then, that’s how we measure time in America now when it comes to our abject failure as a state and a nation to pass reasonable anti-gun violence measures.

We measure it in the gaps between mass shootings.

Two years since Dayton and El Paso. Three years since Tree of Life and ParklandFour years since Las VegasFive years since Pulse. Nearly nine years since Sandy HookFourteen years since Virginia Tech.

All those years. All that death. And the only thing that’s substantively changed are the names of the fallen.

Yes, the Republican-controlled General Assembly has passed a law reducing the time that domestic abusers have to surrender their weapons to law enforcement. And that’s important. So too are the executive actions that Gov. Tom Wolf took in the wake of the El Paso and Dayton shootings.

But when it comes to the stuff that really makes a dent: Red flag laws, assault weapon bans, restrictions on magazine sizes, lost-and-stolen requirements, closing background check loopholes, Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled General Assembly has resolutely refused to take action.

(Photo via Getty Images/Colorado Newsline.)

In fact, rather than making it harder to get your hands on guns, GOP lawmakers are considering a pair of bills making it easier: One would bar municipalities from enacting gun ordinances that are tougher than existing state law and give pretty much anyone the legal standing to challenge them in court.

Another would allow anyone aged 18 or older to carry a concealed firearm without a permit — gun rights advocates refer to this practice as “constitutional carry.”

On Tuesday, Gov. Tom Wolf, his Democratic allies in the General Assembly, and several advocates inveighed against the Senate bills, which the governor has vowed to veto. And they once again pleaded the case for legislative authorization of the reforms I mentioned up above.

That includes approval of “extreme risk protection orders,” or “red flag laws,” which would allow someone to petition a court to temporarily seize an individual’s weapons if they believe they pose an immediate threat to themselves or others. The research shows that such laws work in the states where they’ve been implemented.

During that news conference, Wolf and Senate Democrats offered the usual bromides, saying the state had waited long enough. A gun owner and hunter from Delaware County named Carol Lastowka extolled the virtues of hunting even as she slammed the Senate bills and called for reform.

But if all that was enough, it would have happened by now. If Republicans, and the handful of rural, pro-gun rights Democrats who abet them, were open to those arguments, those reforms, some of which have been kicking around since Gov. Ed Rendell’s administration, would now be law.

But they’re not. And they haven’t.

Charlotte Borger, a student at Great Valley High School, in Malvern, Pa., speaks during a news conference at the state Capitol on Tuesday, 10/26/21 (Capital-Star photo by John L. Micek)

And if Republicans were truly worried — as they’ve argued so often on other bills — about the plight of Pennsylvania’s children, they would listen to the arguments of students such as Charlotte Borger, who attends Great Valley High School in Malvern, Pa.

“I’m a part of the generation that’s grown up with active shooter drills,” Borger said with a calmness and clarity that no one her age should have when it comes to being instructed on how to avoid an armed madman.

But that’s what we’ve done to our kids. We looked the other way and didn’t act when children died at Sandy Hook. When they died at Parkland. When they die on the streets of Philadelphia or any of our other cities.

Amid all the blather about our children being our most precious resource, of them being our future, we’ve normalized teaching them to hide in closets and to throw staplers at killers armed with weapons of mass destruction.

We have failed to give them the one thing they have an absolute right to expect from us: That they will be safe, and that we will move every mountain to make sure that is the case.

More than one of the attendees at Tuesday’s news conference said they were tired of going to vigils, that they were tired of holding press conferences. I know how they feel, I’m tired of writing about them.

After all these years, after all that incalculable sorrow, the only thing that’s really changed are the names of the dead.

That’s our legacy of failure. And that’s why we can’t ever stop trying.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
Moved to act after the death of a Scranton police officer, the Republican-controlled Senate has approved legislation that would increase the penalties for those who try to evade arrest on footMarley Parish reports.

With a seat on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court at stake, Philadelphia trial lawyers and a pro-charter school political action committee linked to a suburban Philadelphia hedge fund manager have once again reached deep into their pockets to spend big on politicsStephen Caruso has the details.

On the eve of the three year anniversary of the mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue, which claimed the lives of 11 people, Gov. Tom Wolf, his Democratic allies in the General Assembly, and advocates made a renewed push for a package of anti-gun violence bills that they said will help prevent the future loss of life, I report.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed 3,742 new cases of COVID-19 in the commonwealth on Tuesday, bringing the total number of cases to more than 1.54 million since the start of the pandemic, I also report.

House lawmakers took major steps toward overhauling the state’s ethics laws on Monday, approving legislation that would significantly limit what gifts state lawmakers may receive from lobbyists, while banning other types of gifts outright, our partners at City & State Pa. report.

On our Commentary Page this morning: The pandemic has made it harder for 1 in 3 Americans to buy healthy, affordable food, two Michigan State University scholars write. Writing for our sibling site Source New Mexico, a veteran journalist argues that it’s past time for the press to stop coddling those who harbor anti-democratic views.

The Bucks County Courthouse in Doylestown, Pa. (Image via Flickr Commons).

The Inquirer profiles the race for Bucks County district attorney, which finds a former prosecutor running to unseat her ex-boss.

The Post-Gazette reflects on the third anniversary of the Tree of Life shootings.

The Pennsylvania Lottery has awarded a 10-year contract to modernize its business, PennLive reports.

USA Today’s Pennsylvania Capital Bureau explains why Pennsylvania isn’t spending billions of dollars in federal stimulus money (paywall).

A lawsuit alleging that a 911 operator hung up on a Spanish-speaking caller is the ‘boiling point’ for the Lehigh Valley’s Latino community, the Morning Call reports.

Teachers in Scranton have authorized a strike, the Times-Tribune of Scranton reports.

With critics hitting him on gun violence, Philly District Attorney Larry Krasner is already looking to a second termWHYY-FM reports.

WITF-FM profiles the race for Harrisburg mayor.

Erie County’s controller is running unopposed for a third termGoErie reports.

An online petition to stop the tolling of a bridge on Interstate 79 in southwestern Pennsylvania has garnered 2,000 signatures, the Observer-Reporter reports.

Politics no longer stops at the water’s edge — President Joe Biden’s domestic challenges will follow him overseasRoll Call reports.

Here’s your #Pittsburgh Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
The House and Senate both come in at 11 a.m. today.
9 a.m., 515 Irvis: House Appropriations/Education committees
9 a.m., 523 Irvis: Local Government Commission
9 am., G50 Irvis: House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee
10 a.m., Main Rotunda: House, Senate Democrats on clean water
10 a.m., 205 Ryan: House Children & Youth Committee
10 a.m., G50 Irvis: House Torism & Recreational Development Committee
10 a.m., B31 Main Capitol: House Commerce Committee
10:15 a.m., 14 East Wing: Legislative Budget & Finance Committee
11 a.m., Main Rotunda: Center for Rural Pa. event
11:30 a.m., Capitol Steps: Rally for public school funding
1 p.m., Capitol Steps: Rally for syringe services
Call of the Chair, 140MC: House Appropriations Committee

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
7:30 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Sheryl Delozier
8 a.m.: Breakfast for Rep. Shelby Labs
8 a.m., Breakfast for Rep. Steve Samuelson
Ride the circuit and give at the max, and you’re out an affordable-for-Harrisburg $5,000 today.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

Heavy Rotation
Here’s one from singer-songwriter Sam Fender to get you over the hump on this Hump Day. It’s ‘Hypersonic Missiles.’

Wednesday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Tampa skated past Pittsburgh 5-1 on Tuesday night, ending the Pens’ season-opening points streak.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.