Gun advocates protest Pittsburgh’s proposed firearms restrictions

Gun advocates protest Pittsburgh’s proposed firearms restrictions

Author: Atiya Irvin-Mitchell/Tuesday, January 8, 2019/Categories: Pittsburgh

On most days, the Pittsburgh City-County Building is a firearm-free zone, but on Monday, anyone on Grant Street would have seen a structure surrounded by hundreds of gun advocates.

Many of the advocates were armed with handguns and rifles, and the occasional musket, as they rallied against Mayor Bill Peduto and a package of gun control legislation introduced by Pittsburgh City Council last month.

When council members announced they sought measures banning assault weapons and certain accessories in response to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in late October, gun rights advocates swiftly threatened legal action.

State statute prevents municipalities from regulating firearms, and the consensus among the crowd was that both Peduto and council were “criminal” for attempting to do so.

Justin Dillon, the rally organizer and founder of Open Carry Pennsylvania, told the eager crowd filled with “Make America Great Again” hats and signs championing the Second Amendment, that the proposed legislation infringed on Pittsburgh residents’ right to keep and bear arms.

“It’s disheartening that some of our elected officials have been misguided into believing that making innocent people vulnerable will somehow stop crime,” Dillion said. “If the mayor and city council pass this, we’ll see you in court.”

This wouldn’t be Dillon’s first legal tangle with Pittsburgh. In 2013, Open Carry Pennsylvania sued over a city ordinance banning guns in parks. The suit ultimately stalled the legislation in court.

With signs that proclaimed “guns don’t kill people,” many believed that the presence of firearms made their respective communities more safe, not less.

Kelly Ann Pigeon, a member of Armed and Feminine, said the Second Amendment was an intrinsic part of women’s rights in America.

"The gun is an equalizer for women. Men are stronger, on average,” she said. “Calling 9-1-1 is false sense of security because if you’re calling a cop it’s probably too late.”

Pigeon blamed gun-free zones for instances of rape and domestic violence that she thought could’ve been helped by law-abiding gun owners. Furthermore, she said pop culture should be blamed for the epidemic of violence in society as opposed to any singular weapon.

Research analysis by the centrist think tank RAND Corporation has found no conclusive evidence for or against gun-free zones.

The protesters often called out Peduto, challenging him to “come and take” their firearms and calling for his resignation. They found a friendly audience with Rep. Aaron Bernstine (R-Beaver), who told attendees that the proposals would never work, and called the legislation nothing more than a political stunt.

“Unfortunately the mayor and his cronies here in the city are attempting to infringe upon the rights of these law abiding [citizens], and all it is, is a political stunt,” Bernstine said. “If we’re going to address these issues, we need to increase penalties for those who commit crimes with weapons.”

Additionally, he pointed to the existing laws preempting the city’s legislative push. However, some of Bernstine’s House colleagues hope to change the law.

Squirrel Hill Rep. Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny), whose district includes the Tree of Life synagogue where 11 people were killed by an anti-Semitic gunman in October, is crafting legislation that would remove preemption language from state gun laws.

Once the rally dispersed, some of the rally’s leaders attempted and were ultimately unsuccessful in meeting with the mayor inside the county building.

Prior to the rally, Peduto along with public safety officials stated that while they disagreed with the protestors beliefs, they supported their right to gather.

In an emailed statement, Tim McNulty, spokesperson for Peduto, didn’t specifically address the possibility for lawsuits but said gun violence has become a public health epidemic and the efforts proposed by Mayor Peduto and council are common sense measures meant to address it.

Council will hold a public hearing on January 24 to gain public input on gun control.

Atiya Irvin-Mitchell a staff writer for The PLS Reporter based in Pittsburgh. Have a question, comment or tip? Email her at