As synagogue shooting trial approaches, anti-gun violence advocates meet in Squirrel Hill to turn poll numbers into law

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If almost everyone wants more regulation of guns, why is it so difficult to get that passed? That question was posed during a meeting of Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence by a woman skeptical of extremely high polling results for certain gun control measures in Pennsylvania. 

Dana Kellerman, policy director with the anti-gun violence group, responded by explaining the overwhelming power of organizations like the National Rifle Association, which dumps millions of dollars every year lobbying politicians. Gun control legislation proves one of the most difficult political fights across the country, but that doesn’t deter impassioned activists. It takes strategizing. 

The Squirrel Hill group, joined by state Rep. Arvind Venkat, D-McCandless, hosted a meeting Wednesday evening focused on practical actions gun regulation advocates can take, including workshops for writing letters to local representatives and newspapers.

Volunteers at an event about the challenges of passing gun legislation, sponsored by the group Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence, at Congregation Rodef Shalom in Squirrel Hill North on May 10, 2023. (Courtesy of Squirrel Hill Stands Against Gun Violence)

The specter of the antisemitic mass shooting at a Squirrel Hill synagogue, in which a gunman killed 11 members of the Tree of Life, Dor Hadash and New Light congregations in 2018, loomed over the meeting. The anti-gun violence group formed in the wake of the shooting, and late April began jury selection in the trial of the accused shooter

Hadley Haas of Pittsburgh Moms Demand Action joined Kellerman and Venkat on a panel at the meeting, which drew about 30 people at Rodef Shalom Congregation in Squirrel Hill North. The three walked through data as well as their experiences and recommendations for advocating for Pennsylvania gun control laws before taking questions and then breaking into letter writing workshop groups. 

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The group outlined The Common Agenda to End Gun Violence, a collection of four bills developed by CeaseFirePA, an organization formed in 2002 that combats gun violence. Representatives introduced each of these bills in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives on May 3:

  • HB 1018 would enact Extreme Risk Protection Orders, known as red flag laws, which would give residents a mechanism to petition a judge to take away guns from a family member who is likely to harm themselves or others. 
  • HB 731 would mandate safe storage of guns not in use in homes.
  • HB 714 would introduce universal background checks for all gun purchases.
  • HB 338 would require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns.

Kellerman said polls show these measures to be popular among Pennsylvanian voters. For example, a poll released in June of 2022 by Third Way and GS Strategy Group found majority support for policy proposals such as red flag laws and universal background checks. 

Absent from the package of bills are more controversial proposals like an assault weapons ban.

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