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Guns in America: 12 Participants From TIME Cover React to Pittsburgh Shooting and Mural Spray Painting

14 minute read

We asked participants in TIME and JR’s “Guns in America” project to react to the Pittsburgh shooting and to the spray painted “11” on the “Guns in America” mural in New York City. Here’s some of what they had to say:

Gabrielle Giffords, former U.S. Representative; co-founder, Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence

“This morning, the sanctuaries of Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill were targeted by a hate-fueled act of violence. Several are dead, many others injured. Neighborhoods in Pittsburgh are devastated, and our Jewish community is heartbroken. Our nation is shaken to its core.

I’d like to say a tragedy like this is unimaginable, but I can’t.

From the Pulse nightclub shooting to the sickening protests we saw unfold in Charlottesville last year to the attack at Mother Emanuel in Charleston, our nation has seen tragedy after tragedy unfold when hatred and bigotry are emboldened. Just this week, a man in Kentucky targeted an African American church before finding and shooting two victims at a nearby supermarket. Also this week, Americans also watched in horror as the story of a serial bomber unfolded. Political violence, hate speech, and crimes against the First Amendment have no place in our society.

The alarming frequency with which we watch these terrifying scenes unfold in our communities is devastating – and it’s not normal. Every single day, nearly 100 Americans are killed with a gun in our country. We must not only recognize the realities of hatred in our society, but actively work to make it harder for dangerous people fueled by hate to access firearms and murder innocent people.”

Mollie Davis, student activist

“After it happened at my high school, Great Mills, I would cry after every shooting that made the news. The day of the Santa Fe shooting I fell asleep on the couch in my living room crying so hard it was hard to breathe blasting some Spotify cover of Amazing Grace. That was the hardest I had cried since the shooting at my school. The synagogue shooting was the first one that didn’t make me cry. Not because I wasn’t upset. But because it made me more angry than sad. I was tempted to throw one my mugs across the room and shatter it just to get my feelings out. It’s infuriating watching more people die and more people suffer because of something that’s preventable. It feels like a vicious cycle that we’re never going to get ourselves out of. I hope I’m wrong on that but every shooting that happens makes having hope harder. You never forget seeing your AP economics teacher be a pallbearer at a sixteen year old girl’s funeral. It hurts my heart to think about how such a huge amount of people are going to have similar memories burned into their mind.”

Dr. Michael Foreman, trauma surgeon

“My first thoughts were ‘not again.’

Followed by ‘Why??’

Once more, hate was spilled out of from its usually guarded deep recess in the mind and soul of an individual. Someone who allowed their internal pain, for which they misguidedly think others are culpable, to take physical form and destroy another. As if, somehow, spreading torment and grievance to others acts as a salve to their own. Such a selfish act of transferal.

Why? He must be insane!

In discussion with my son, he reminded me that mental illness is not necessary for heinous acts. Sometimes people are just angry and don’t know how to cope except by blaming others. We want him to be “mentally deranged” but only because it frightens us so deeply to imagine a world where a sane person could do this. We want to have meaning and order because not knowing why something bad happens is terrifying. Sadly, sometimes, meaning and order are not to be found. Sometimes, people do evil things and people die for no good reason. Sometimes the world sucks. Our job is to make it suck less.

The murder/suicide that commonly occurs in these tragedies reminds me of the ritual sacrifice of the servants at the king’s death to accompany them on their journey. These cowards who apparently gain some modicum of ‘support’ as they have reached a breaking point and feel they must glorify their own sad exit by wasting the lives of others I would like to think are ill… but I can only think of them as contemptible. When they survive, I pray that they are carefully and fully dissected psychologically so that this cognitive ‘post-mortem’ might help us to understand, recognize and prevent the next victims from falling to this evil.

When I first saw the photo of the graffiti on the mural, I didn’t know what had happened. I didn’t know someone had sprayed it with the number eleven. My eyes saw what I thought was a video about to be played with the ” ll “as an overlying red “pause” button.

In many ways the mural project is a pause attempt to allow thoughts to rise and mingle.

How I wish for a magical “ll” button that could have been pressed before a petty and troubled soul committed such a despicable act in Pittsburgh.

My heart goes out to the community, those who lost their life, those who are injured, and their families.

It also goes out to those caring for the injured. None will be unchanged by this.

We are all his victims.”

Gabriella Hoffman, media strategist and Resurgent writer

“All Americans grieve for those 11 Jewish congregants killed at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh on Saturday. It’s an unspeakable tragedy—one that angers us all, including us gun owners and NRA members. Any and all violence perpetrated against any American is an attack on us all. What this evil individual and criminal did goes against humanity and ethics ascribed to firearms safety. Do not lump law-abiding gun owners with this anti-Semite, because we reject any and all criminals who murder innocent Americans.

As someone who is ethnically Jewish, I worry about the rise of anti-Semitism rearing its head again, as it has in the last decade. This isn’t a new thing. Anti-Semitism has been making a comeback since the 1990’s. This supersedes politics and should be perceived as that.

It is my hope that more American Jews, should they choose, consider more options to protect themselves—including firearms trainings in their localities if they are available.”

Rep. Eric Swalwell (D., Ca.)

“Doing nothing has only led to more and more shootings in the places we’ve always believed, up until the last few years, have been safe. Our schools, our synagogues, our temples, our concerts, our theaters—all of the places that we believed were safe, we are finding are not safe. The shootings continue. There are only two constants: one, that the shootings continue and two, that Congress does nothing. And so I think we can all agree that doing nothing is not working.”

Kyleanne Hunter, Vice president of programs, Brady Campaign & Center to Prevent Gun Violence

“As a Marine officer, I fought around the world to stop violent hate. The easy access to guns in this country has made already vile hate deadly. Every time an American kills another American we do the enemy’s job for them. With a week to the election it is incumbent on all of us to elect candidates that make gun violence prevention a priority. “

Curtis Lavarello, Executive director, School Safety Advocacy Council

“I’ve had many discussions this past week relative to the causation of some of these horrific events. Events such as the shooting in Pittsburgh, the mauled pipe bombs and of course the continued dialogue relative to the shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School. And while there is no doubt we probably live in the most divided country that I have witnessed in my lifetime it’s hard to ignore that and so many of these tragedies time and time again the common denominator is a high-powered firearms. For us as a nation to go on ignoring this fact seems to be quite foolish. There are certainly many causes to these events and plenty of blame to go around however we continue to want to bury our heads in the sand when the common denominator is staring us right in the face.”

Cassidy O’Neill, Graduate student, University of North Texas

“Every mass killing in the US and around the world is absolutely heartbreaking. And it’s always been so hard to defend the people’s right to keep and bear arms in the wake of a tragedy like this without people making me feel heartless. But I just don’t think guns are the issue. The issue is hate, intolerance, and an absolute disregard for the value of human life. Being a Christian, I believe that every single human life has equal value. No matter what sets us apart, we all have that value in common. And until our society as a whole can really learn how to see the value in our fellow human beings, we will continue to see senseless acts of violence against each other. If it’s not guns, it’ll be knives or bombs. Disarming people will not cure hate. It will just make the hateful find different ways to act on their hate. I believe that as long as there is hate and hateful people, the right to bear arms and protect yourself is even more important. I know a pastor who encourages his congregation to conceal carry because he has received threats to their church. And he knows that if someone were to come into their church with a gun, the only way to stop them would to be equally equipped. I don’t believe that guns are the ultimate solution to solve hate, but the people have the right to protect themselves and their loved ones from hate. I believe society needs to learn how to love each other, for all our difference and despite disagreements. But the hateful few should not disarm the peaceful majority. And I know myself and several others that would use our rights to not only protect ourselves and our loved ones, but any innocent people around us, regardless of race, religion, gender, or any other difference we might have.”

John Feinblatt, President, Everytown for Gun Safety

“’Where are our leaders?’

That’s what Rabbi Jeffrey Myers, the leader of Tree of Life synagogue, wrote in a July blog post that focused on gun safety.

His question has never been more urgent — and the answer has never been more obvious. Right now, thousands of gun sense champions are running for office. You can find them at www.GunSenseVoter.org

On November 6th, the American people should vote for candidates who promise to pass laws to keep guns away from people with dangerous histories. And then we should make sure our leaders follow through.”

Sharon Crossland, mortgage servicing specialist

“I am truly saddened by the amount of hatred the United States of America displays each and every day, but more so of late. The brutal murders this past weekend is reminiscent of the hatred of past years. Murder, because of one’s religious differences, the color of one’s skin, and one’s sexual preference is a hatred bred so deep in our society that even the Leader of the Free World thinks it is acceptable and continues to encourage this type of hatred. When the head of the country continues to spew hatred we will continue to spiral back in time. These weapons of mass destruction have no place on our streets. It may be a person’s right to bear arms, but at what cost? Will we continue to allow these types of weapons on the street, when is enough, enough?

I don’t understand how they brought this person in alive. Today, the majority of the mass murders are taken alive by authorities unless, they take their own lives, but our black children and black men and women are gunned down in the middle of the streets, because they pose a threat. When a mass murder carries a gun and shoots up a school, a church, an office building, they don’t pose a threat? This is what African Americans have lived with for decades, a hatred embedded so very deep in the soil of these Americas, the very same place that we built with our blood and tears. I cry for these America’s today!

It’s sad we live in a society today, where it’s easier to purchase a gun than it is to cast your vote. America is showing its true colors! The American Dream… until it becomes a nightmare, which is what we are experiencing today! We have work to do and laws to change!”

Beth Poquette Drews, Teacher, middle school music

“With the announcement of the tragic shootings at a Kentucky Kroger and a Pittsburg Synagogue, readers flock to the internet to click on news stories about the events that have unfolded. In the aftermath of these horrific scenes. I have decided that I will not click on stories of hate.

I will not click on news story that tells why the shooter did it. Hate is why he did it.. I will not click hate.

I will not click on his name and immortalize him in my memory. I will not click hate.

I will not click on bio of the shooter to find out what excuses he has made because of the life he led. I will not click hate.

I will not click on his photo and stare at the face of evil. I will not click hate.

I will not justify the actions of this person clicking on the stories about his heinousness. I will not click hate.

I will click on the stories of the first responders who showed compassion during the horror and pray for their continued strength. I will click love.

I will click on the names of each victim and honor their names. I will click love

I will click the bio of each victim and read about the families who loved them. I will click love.

I will click on the photos of the victims and look at their smiles. I will click love.

I will click on the stories of the vigils held in their memories and shed tears over our loss. I will click love.

Each one of us has a choice as to what we perpetuate. Each of us chose what stories we click on and who we immortalize. We can continue to inspire “Shock and Awe” culture by giving our attention to hate or we can silence it focusing on love. As a society we have become fascinated by the events of evil. We watch in horror as children are shot in school rooms, as babies are shot in churches, as people of color are shot at the grocery store, and now as our respected elderly are shot in prayer. As long as we give our attention to evil, evil will continue to become more heinous to keep our attention. Therefore, I will not strengthen this wickedness by supporting it with my internet clicks. I will not click hate.”

Amanda Johnson, Advocate, Texas Moms Demand Action

“Once you have been touched by gun violence, every gun death is personal for you. I know the fog, the disbelief, these families are going through right now as they prepare to bury their loved ones. It’s totally surreal. To those feeling sad and desperate I want to say—grab an oar. The way I stay sane in the midst of all this violence is by taking action. I’m fighting this fight and I refuse to let my kids inherit our gun problem. So call your reps, join Moms Demand, vote for Gun Sense Candidates, but whatever you do, do not sit idly by wringing your hands. We need you.”

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Write to Abigail Abrams at abigail.abrams@time.com