A Pennsylvania man, armed with an AR-15 rifle and four handguns, killed 11 people in a mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday. The incident has triggered a debate about issues ranging from gun control to turning America into a police state.
The accused gunman, Robert Bowers, 46, was charged with 29 federal counts, including hate crimes and using a firearm to commit murder. Bowers was allegedly armed with an assault rifle and four handguns. , after he was taken into custody follwoing a shootout with police at the scene of the “horrific” mass shooting.
During the rampage, he allegedly ranted about “his desire to kill Jewish people” and “genocide,” according to Scott Brady, the U.S. attorney for the region.
Robert Jones, the FBI special agent in charge, said the crime scene is “large” and “complex.”
Pittsburgh officials identified the 11 victims, who ranged in age from 54 years old to 97.
The victims are as follows: Joyce Fienberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, David Rosenthal, 54, Bernice Simon, 84, Sylvan Simon, 86, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69.
“All of America is in mourning over the mass murder of Jewish Americans at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh,” said President Donald J. Trump. “We pray for those who perished and their loved ones, and our hearts go out to the brave police officers who sustained serious injuries.”
Trump declared himself a “nationalist” during his rally in Houston, embracing the label that has long defined his populist rhetoric and protectionist policies.
Trump later said America should “bring back the death penalty,” possibly indicating ignorance of the fact that capital punishment is legal in 31 US states and federal judges may impose the death penalty for 60 offenses.
Trump has consistently called for capital punishment, often without concern for due process, even suggesting the death penalty for drug dealers, praising countries like China and Indonesia for their harsh punishments for drug offenses. In February 2016, Trump mocked people who consider the death penalty unconstitutional and denounced humane methods of execution.
According to the Death Penalty Information Center, 23 people were executed in the United States in 2017 and 39 death sentences were imposed. So far this year, at least 16 executions were carried out in seven states.
The Federal Death Penalty Act of 1994 was enacted by then-President Bill Clinton. For federal death row inmates, the president alone has the power to grant a pardon and the US government and US military have 63 people awaiting execution.
The Criminal Justice Project reported there were 2,817 people on death row in the United States on July 1, 2017, the most recent date for which data is available.
On November 8, 2016, voters in California, Nebraska and Oklahoma answered referendum questions on ballots in favor of the death penalty.
Trump told a crowd at a political rally in Murphysboro, Illinois, that “the evil anti-Semitic attack is an assault on all of us.” The president also said, “When you have crimes like this… we have to bring back the death penalty.”
Trump is hoping to help vulnerable Republicans stay in control of Congress, planning at least 10 rallies over the five-day stretch before Election Day.
“I am deeply saddened by the news of a shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh,” said US Senator Bernie Sanders, of Vermont. “Several years ago a hateful person walked into a church in Charleston. Today there was another act of violence – this time at a synagogue.”
“In too many of these cases the pattern is the same,” said Sanders. “The gun delivers the fatal shots and hate pulls the trigger. We have got to do everything we can to end these horrific acts of violence and address the growing epidemic of hatred, as well as gun safety in this country.”
“I don’t think that the answer to this problem is solved by having our synagogues, mosques and churches filled with armed guards or schools filled with armed guards,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Phil Peduto. “We should try to stop irrational behavior from happening at the forefront. And not try to create laws around irrational behavior to continue.”
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