Rounds

News and notes on guns in America

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Daily Bulletin: ‘Where Are Our Leaders?’ a Pittsburgh Rabbi Wrote. That Was in July.

Good morning, Bulletin readers. In today’s briefing: more developments in the Tree of Life synagogue massacre, along with details from a fatal school shooting in North Carolina, and two multiple-casualty shootings that you may have missed amid the terrible headlines out of Pittsburgh. 

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WHAT TO KNOW TODAY

The suspected Pittsburgh synagogue gunman appeared in court. The alleged killer, who was wounded by police officers after the massacre, showed up to court in a wheelchair on Monday after being discharged from the hospital. He requested a public defender and was denied bail. The federal prosecutor on the case is seeking the death penalty.

Meanwhile, more details emerged about the victims: 

  • Melvin Wax, 88, was a devoted congregant at Tree of Life, attending services Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. A retired accountant, he did fellow worshippers’ taxes for free. Wax initially escaped the gunfire by hiding in a closet, but he opened the door too soon and was gunned down in the hall. Because he was hard of hearing, no one could warn him. 
  • Bernice Simon, 84, and her husband Sylvan Simon, 86, a former Army paratrooper, had their marriage ceremony at Tree of Life in December 1956. They died in the same place they were wed, one month shy of their 62nd wedding anniversary.
  • Joyce Fienberg, originally from Toronto, was a research assistant at the University of Pittsburgh with an uncanny memory for even the smallest bits of information, her colleague of 25 years said. She also never forgot anyone’s birthday. 

The mayor of Pittsburgh rejected President Trump’s call for armed guards at houses of worship. Bill Perduto, a Democrat, came out strongly against the idea, instead recommending the removal of guns from “those that are looking to express hatred through murder.” But an official in New York City, home to more than a million Jews, plans to come to church armed. Eric Adams, Brooklyn’s borough president, says he’s bringing a handgun with him whenever he visits a house of worship. The inclination is not shared by Mayor Bill De Blasio, who said, “That’s not America.”

In a July blog post, Tree of Life’s rabbi lamented lawmakers’ inaction on gun violence. In an essay on the synagogue’s website entitled “We Deserve Better,” Rabbi Jeffrey Myers criticized lawmakers who pay lip service to gun reform only to drop the issue as soon as the latest mass shooting fades from the headlines. “Now that schools are closed for the summer, apparently school safety is not important, as shooters are finding other valuable sites,” he wrote. “I shouldn’t have to include in my daily morning prayers that God should watch over my wife and daughter, both teachers, and keep them safe. Where are our leaders?”

While the world grieved over Pittsburgh, two more multiple-casualty shootings occurred. Five people were wounded at a Halloween party at a home in Memphis on Saturday night. And seven people were wounded in a shootout at a “Purge”-themed Halloween party at a Riverside, California, nightclub early Monday.

And on Monday, there was a fatal shooting in a North Carolina high school. A 16-year-old student reportedly subjected to bullying at Butler High School in Matthews, a suburb of Charlotte, shot and killed a classmate in a hallway before classes began yesterday morning.

Meanwhile, researchers calculated that 8,300 kids each year are treated for gunshot injuries. The same team from Johns Hopkins that pegged the annual cost of gun assaults at $3 billion last year has now turned its focus to children and teens. They found that more than 75,000 people under 18 were treated in American emergency rooms between 2006 and 2014. The average emergency room and inpatient charges were $2,445 and $44,966 per visit, respectively, for a total of more than a quarter of a billion dollars a year.

ONE LAST THING

In June, Elizabeth Van Brocklin interviewed the survivor of a devastating anti-Semitic gun rampage as part of our Aftermath podcast. In July 2006, Layla Bush, then 23, was working her first real office job at the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle when an American of Pakistani descent shot her and five of her co-workers. One of them died. Layla faced a daunting recovery from a gunshot wound to the abdomen, but even more devastating was the survivor’s guilt: She blamed herself for buzzing in the gunman, who entered behind her manager’s niece. Even though there was no way she could have known that he’d been holding a gun to the girl’s head, “I was the gatekeeper,” she said a dozen years later. “I was responsible for the safety of the building.” Listen to the rest of her story here.