On Sunday, just 24 hours after an anti-Semitic madman murdered 11 Jewish people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, NBA coach Steve Kerr used the shooting as a chance to stump for banning semi-automatic weapons. “I’m going to vote for every candidate that’s willing to stand up to the NRA,” Kerr said. Gun control advocates think this tragedy will help their cause and perhaps buoy Democratic candidates in the midterm elections. Some commentators, appallingly, have overtly exploited the tragedy for political gain.
But if they think Pittsburgh is going to rally for gun control, they’re wrong. I go to college in the Pittsburgh area and have lived in the vicinity all my life. I know the Pittsburgh people — especially the ones who live in its suburbs and outer edges. The city will react to the Tree of Life shooting differently than other major cities would react, for several reasons.
Allegheny County only voted narrowly for Hillary Clinton in 2016, whereas a city like Philadelphia voted overwhelmingly Democratic. While all of the counties surrounding Philadelphia County also voted solidly for Clinton, all of the counties surrounding Allegheny voted for Trump. Even some districts at the outer rim of Allegheny contrasted inner Pittsburgh’s deep blue: parts of Moon Township, Ross Township, North and South Fayette went for Trump.
A lot of gun owners live in the area, too. The Pittsburgh people support the Second Amendment at a rate higher than the typical major city, especially in the outer-edge Trump country. More to the point, it is hard to explain how common it is for people in western Pennsylvania to go out and hunt deer. Families deck their children in boots, camouflage, and a bit of bright orange, sons and daughters alike, and teach them how to shoot animals properly. It’s a pastime ingrained into Pennsylvanians, especially in the woods just beyond Pittsburgh.
Pittsburgh has always been more of a blue-collar city. Although its economy has reoriented since its steel heyday, the city was built on coal and manufacturing. Maybe it’s the descendants of the original inhabitants who keep the spirit alive, or maybe the culture has just remained tough all along. But everyone here knows we tell it like it is, and we often doubt idealistic politicians. The youth are progressive, certainly, which keeps the art district vibrant, but the people here act more like the country as a whole than they act like those in Los Angeles.
Other cities might need to rally around a pet issue like gun control in order to maintain sanity after such a terrifying crime. But Pittsburgh unifies like no other — around food (you’d better eat the fries on the sandwich at Primanti Bros.), around local icons like Mr. Rogers, and around sports, thanks to black-and-gold champions like the Steelers and the Penguins.
The Pittsburgh people are unlikely to rally together for gun control. Instead, they are likely to set aside their differences and unify against hatred, support the Jewish community, and live to bicker over guns another day.
So far, no major protest has cropped up. Instead, thousands of Squirrel Hill residents, and doubtlessly Yinzers from every part of the city, came together for a peaceful vigil on Sunday. If a political protest does erupt, most people won’t attend. Instead, they will unify.
“What happened yesterday will not break us,” said Rabbi Jonathan Perlman. A local Christian leader at the event said, “We will cry with you. We will resist anti-Semitism and all hatred with you.”
We don’t need a protest because we know how to unify without one. We are too ideologically diverse, let alone too rural and too blue-collar, to unify around the Democratic Party. Pittsburgh has better symbols to rally around.
I hate what that madman did on Saturday, and he has no place in this city. But fortunately, I don’t require a pet issue to feel optimistic. Thanks to the Pittsburgh people, I have hope for the future. And I don’t need a midterm election for that.
Julian Gregorio is a student at Robert Morris University, just outside Pittsburgh.