Op-ed by Senator Wayne D. Fontana (D-Pittsburgh).


I write today with a heavy heart. Far too many times, we have all watched in horror as mass shootings play out across our nation. That nightmare has now come to pass in our own Pennsylvania backyard.

To our friends and neighbors in Squirrel Hill, we admire your spirit, strength and unity. To members of the Tree of Life Synagogue, we offer our heartfelt sympathy and support as you recover from this harrowing tragedy.

To members of the Jewish faith everywhere, we stand with you in solidarity. To our law enforcement and emergency responders, we salute you and thank you for your heroism.

We often take for granted your sacrifice and service while all along knowing that you are the literal lifeline of our communities.

Most of all, to the victims and their families, our hearts are broken for you. It is always difficult to say a premature goodbye to a loved one or watch a family member lie injured in a hospital bed, but the circumstances that you have been dealt are unfathomable to most of us.

May you find peace and comfort someplace within the darkness of this senseless act of violence.

A synagogue is a place of peace and reflection, representative of a sanctuary for those practicing their faith.

However, on Saturday morning, congregants were victims of bigotry, violence and terror. It was the largest, most heinous act of violence against the Jewish people in the history of our nation. Right here at home. Hate has no place in Pittsburgh or anywhere.

Now that mass gun violence has infiltrated our beloved city within the borders of our Commonwealth, I call on my colleagues in the General Assembly to work together on solutions.

While I believe this issue is best addressed at the federal level to ensure uniformity from state to state, “leaders” in Washington always block deliberation. Their failure to do their job and advance commonsense safety measures is why it’s upon us to do what’s right for the health, safety and welfare of our citizens.

Following the tragic events in Parkland, Florida earlier this year, I said enough is enough.

That’s why I introduced a package of legislation aimed at addressing gun violence. One of them, SB17, would institute the Pennsylvania Assault Weapons Ban.

These military-grade weapons have no place in civilian life and are unnecessary for self-defense. These guns were made to kill people quickly and efficiently, as proven once again on Saturday.

The second measure is SB18, which establishes a system in our Commonwealth for the implementation of Extreme Risk Protection Orders.

These orders can empower those who are close to an individual in crisis to ask a judge to temporarily remove the person’s guns.

This system focuses on individuals who are exhibiting dangerous behavior and have been demonstrated to be an effective means of temporarily preventing people in crisis from having access to guns, while respecting rights to due process.

For those who might predictably say that I am politicizing a tragedy, particularly fellow elected officials, I say that your inaction and resistance to improvements in our laws is politics at its very worst.

Before anyone accuses me of ill intention, I do not seek or wish to infringe upon any law-abiding citizens’ rights.

The perpetrator of the weekend’s shootings was the one who infringed upon the constitutionally protected rights under the First Amendment of everyone in that synagogue.

And keep in mind our Declaration of Independence. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are three examples of our unalienable rights which governments were created to protect.

I readily admit that I, like most, don’t have all the answers. The point is that we must do something. This growing epidemic has hit home. To continue to sit by and do nothing is a dereliction of duty. It is ignoring our most fundamental responsibility to our citizens.

We cannot let the aftermath of this event become another blindly complicit stain on our nation. Not here in the Steel City and Keystone state. We owe it to the victims of this latest tragedy.

We owe it to their families and friends. We owe it to their neighbors and colleagues. In their names, we must come together to protect others from their fate.

In the meantime, we must continue to be Pittsburgh Strong and Pennsylvania Proud.

Originally posted on PennLive