Action Guide


Background: Gun Violence In Pittsburgh

The 3,300 gunshots reported in Pittsburgh during 2016 “struck people in two-thirds of city neighborhoods”, with Homewood and the North Side seeing the highest concentrations. Between 2014 and 2016, an average of 11 shots were fired each day.

In September of 2016, teenager Daija McCall was shot and killed in broad daylight. This was only a few months after her six-year old cousin, Isis Allen, was shot in the head. Daija sang at the funeral.

People have repeated again and again since the Tree of Life tragedy that Squirrel Hill is the last place they expected this to happen. Because Squirrel Hill is relatively white and wealthy, the setting was more ‘surprising’.

Gun Violence Prevention 

You know that the gun regulation we have right now isn’t good enough. But what exactly is that regulation? What needs to change to prevent more tragic shootings in Pittsburgh and across the country? What initiatives, bills, and elections are most important to get involved in?

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What’s Going On At The State Level 

Background Checks

Pennsylvania is one of 21 states that uses its own system, alongside the national system, to conduct gun purchase background checks. It is important that the PA Instant Criminal Background Check System (PICS) continues to be funded and maintained.
The federal government uses the National Background Check System (NICS) to perform checks on all people who attempt to purchase guns from licensed dealers in the country. If the background check reveals criminal history, crossing state lines to avoid prosecution, documented history of domestic violence, drug use, dishonorable military discharge, unlawful immigration status, or court-ordered placement in a psychiatric institution, the sale will be denied.

As a Point of Contact state, Pennsylvania can apply background checks to more sale circumstances than those required federally and conducts these checks with PICS. Having two layers of protection in place is beneficial because PICS has access to records that NICS does not, including detailed information on some would-be gun purchasers’ arrest warrants, restraining orders, and mental health history. Additionally, PICS allows a background check to be delayed for 15 days, at which time the potential purchaser can challenge the status of their check. In contrast, if a background check run solely by NICS procedures is delayed for three days, the dealer can complete the sale without any conclusion on whether the buyer is eligible. This loophole, known as a “default proceed”, allowed Dylan Roof to purchase the gun he used in Charleston despite having a documented history of drug use that made him ineligible for firearm ownership.

Record-keeping and reporting 

State, county, and local agencies need to conduct more careful record-keeping and thorough reporting to the PICS and NICS databases. “The gun background check system is only as strong as the records it contains”. For example, of 7.8 million active-warrant records across state databases in 2014, only 2.1 million of those records were logged in the NICS database. Many states claim that they cannot report crucial mental health records to the NICS database because of restrictions around the protection of patients’ privacy. Information falls through the cracks easily, sometimes leading to tragic results. Devin Kelley, for example, who had been convicted in military court of choking his wife and fracturing the skull of his baby stepson five years prior, passed multiple background checks, purchased multiple guns, and shot and killed 26 people at a Texas Baptist church in 2017.

What’s Going On At The Federal Level

Higher standard for being disqualified from gun purchase 

Department of Justice recently changed its background check criteria so that hundreds of thousands of accused criminals are no longer prevented from buying guns. Federal law (specifically the 1993 Brady Act) mandates that a gun sale cannot be completed if a background check finds the purchaser to be a “fugitive from justice”. Until February 2017, the government considered “fugitive from justice” to mean anyone with an outstanding warrant out for their arrest; now, only someone who has an outstanding warrant and has crossed state lines to avoid prosecution is considered a fugitive.

Sportsmen’s heritage and recreational enhancement act 

Congress is considering passing this bill, which would make it easier to buy gun silencers and weaken rules that limit the transport of guns between states. It has been on the table for a few years but has yet to be put to hearing or vote. When it does, however, experts say it’s likely to pass.

Fix nics act 

This is a bipartisan bill that would work to improve the reporting of important data to the FBI and thus avoid cases where background checks miss a purchaser’s history of crime and/or domestic violence. Unfortunately, this legislation became less likely to pass after it was packaged with a contradictory act that would weaken, not strengthen, gun control. Join the authors of Fix NICS in calling for it to be voted on separately.

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What You can do

1. Call the state, county, and local agencies that are responsible for reporting information that would disqualify someone from purchasing a gun.       

Ask about their procedures for reporting to state and federal crime and domestic violence databases, and what measures (training, supervision, quality checks, etc.) the agency uses to ensure that its staff is keeping clear records and consistently reporting them to the appropriate data collectors. In Pennsylvania, some of the agencies with the most important information for gun eligibility decisions are the State Police, the state courts, the Department of Drug and Alcohol Programs, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, the Department of Corrections, and the Board of Probation and Parole. Municipal police and county sheriff departments are also important reporting agencies. You can also express your desire for more accurate and consistent reporting to the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, which runs initiatives to improve criminal justice operations throughout the state government.

2. Tell your legislators what you want 

Remember, you’re paying their salary. It is their job to do what their constituents want. Call your elected officials and demand that they introduce, vote for, and create coalitions to support the gun control measures Pennsylvania currently lacks. Your state legislators and local officials can be found here. Your U.S. senators and representatives can be found here.

Here are a few important questions to ask when you call:

Have you — or will you — sign on to gun-violence prevention measures, such as closing loopholes in our background check system that allow the private sale of long guns — including the AR-15 used at Tree of Life — without a background check in Pennsylvania?

Will you work to reinstate a ban on semiautomatic rifles and high-capacity magazines — the weapons of choice for mass shooters?

Will you work for such measures as an Extreme Risk Protection Order that allow family members to petition a court to temporarily bar access to firearms by a loved one in crisis?

Will you vote for party leaders who are pledging to bring gun-violence prevention measures to a vote?

Will you get your colleagues — in your party and across the aisle — to partner with you on these initiatives?

3. Vote

 In races for U.S. Congress, state legislature, governor, and attorney general, vote for candidates with strong gun control platforms. Find out how your candidates for National and Pennsylvania elections stack up in terms of gun control policy. Many local elections are also important. You have the opportunity to elect county executive, county council, sheriff, and district attorney at the county level, as well as mayor and city council at the municipal level.
The next major state and national elections will happen in November 2020. Sign up to be reminded when it’s time to vote in your area. Not sure if you’re registered? Check here. Register to vote, find your polling place, update your voter registration with a new address or political party affiliation. Request an absentee ballot in case you are registered in a different state than the one you’ll be in on Election Day.

4. Promote Candidates 

Voting is essential, but it is not the end of your ability to improve election results. Volunteer for the campaigns of the candidates you support and inform your friends, family, and community about their common-sense gun policies through conversations and social media.


Anti-Semitism has been an issue troubling the western world for over 2,000 years. In the original teachings of Christianity, Jews were blamed for the crucifixion of Jesus. As such, the protestant and catholic teachings created distrust and resentment towards the Jewish community. The most widely known occurrence of violence against Jews was during World War II when Nazi Germany systematically imprisoned and murdered Jews. The troubling thing is, because World War II is taught in all public schools and Nazi Germany’s actions are widely recognized as hateful, there is some sense that anti-Semitic actions of the past have been acknowledged and thus been put “behind us.” That is not the case abroad, nor is it the case here in the United States.

The massacre at the Tree of Life Synagogue brought to light the anti-Semitism that is still pervasive in the United States. Many Americans, including myself, would like to think that this was an isolated occurrence, a fluke, an action taken by one “crazy anti-Semitic with a weapon,” yet we must face the reality that we live in the very country that bred his anti-Semitic hatred in the first place. Anti-Semitism is not a footnote of the past, but a problem of the present, and a concern for our future.

Anti-Semitism In The United States 

Anti-Semitic Incidents In The United States

According to the Anti-defamation League, in 2017, there was a 57% increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes from 2016 with  1, 986 anti-semitic incidents around the country.  These incidents included bomb threats, physical assaults, and harassment of members of the Jewish community.  To be clear, a hate crime is “motivated by racial, sexual, or other prejudice, usually involving violence.” and the Jewish community is not the only victims of these crimes. Yet, to create a targeted community plan we have focused on specifically anti-semitic hate, hate crimes, and violence.

Anti-Semitism in Pennsylvania 

So what about Pennsylvania specifically? Unfortunately, anti-Semitism is also rooted more locally. Obviously, this has been illuminated by the tragedy in Pittsburgh, which was the deadliest attack  on the Jewish community in US history, but this is not an isolated event. More recently, in Brookline, people awoke to find anti-semitic posters plastered many places around the community by a Neo-Nazi group. There was a 34% increase in Pennsylvania of Anti-Semitic crimes in 2016, and the Anti-Defamation League cited an 86% increase in the first quarter of 2017. Furthermore, the ADL also reported that the anti-semitic incidents of 2016, such as online threats to students, vandalism including swastikas, and bullying, were the worst the state has seen in over a decade.

Learn More 

Here are some informative reads and interesting links to learn more about Anti-Semitism nationally and locally. Continue on to check out our community action guide to learn about some of the tangible steps we have come up with to help you take action.

Combating Anti-Semitism Locally and Nationally: Our Action Guide 

To us, legislation for more gun control seems like an obvious next step in responding to a tragedy such as this massacre because the destruction was, after all, made possible by a gun. Yet, we must recognize that the tragedy occured with the help of a gun, but not because of a gun. Our society still allows anti-semitic values to exist and our society was able to breed such hatred. This is a much more difficult reality to grapple with because hatred is rarely, if ever, tangible. As such, we have put together an action guide for community measures to combat anti-semitism, that we hope will help give a path for people to find tangible action during a time of so much anger, grief, and confusion.

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What You Can Do 

1. Promote education 

  • Educate community members, specifically young people, about the Jewish community and its values, as well as about the dangers of Antisemitism
    • The Anti-Defamation League has many resources for educators such as lesson plans and activities that will help to facilitate the discussion of anti-semitism
    • Host a Holocaust speaker or other individual experience related to Anti-Semitism that can share personal experiences to lend tangible stories to the hatred we want to work against

For example, Pitt recently hosted Holocaust survivor Shulamit Bastacky to share her experiences

2. Advocate for self and Community awareness 

  • Report small-scale acts of Antisemitism
  • Any reports of Anti- Semitic symbols, rhetoric, etc.
    • Call legislators and local officials, make sure that people know this happened and seek community support in effort to reject Antisemitism locally
    • Make sure people know it’s unacceptable to make “jokes” about the Holocaust, Nazis, etc.
      • This only contributes to the rise of Antisemitism and shouldn’t be left unchallenged
  • Microaggressions
    • A microaggression is a comment or action that (un)intentionally expresses prejudice towards a marginalized group
    • Antisemitism can appear in the form of microaggression. Because of the subtle and ambiguous nature of microaggressions, they often go unnoticed or ignored, but they can have serious consequences. They are not only offensive to individuals who identify with the marginalized group, but also reinforce and normalize harmful stereotypes and hate toward these groups.
      • What do you do when you witness a microaggression? Say something. Tell the person directly that what they said or did is unacceptable and explain how it is harmful. Another way to approach this situation is to ask, “What did you mean by that?” This question allows the person to consider what they said or did and why and also opens it up for discussion.
  • Be an active bystander
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3. Support Organizations 

  • Support organizations dedicated to ending gun violence and rejecting Anti-Semitism
  • Pledge to Reject Anti-Semitism
    • Ask your elected officials to publicly take the pledge to reject Antisemitism and share that they have completed it via social media
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Kayla Ortiz, Anna Rosenberg, Clara Grantier, Marina Sullivan, and Jace Bridges