Cancel Pittsburgh gun show after Tree of Life massacre, city council member urges

“This event makes mockery of that tragedy and their grief,” council member Ricky Burgess said.

File photo of Rev. Ricky Burgess.

File photo of Rev. Ricky Burgess.

Jasmine Goldband / The Incline

Updated 11:14 a.m. Dec. 5: This article has been updated to include comment from expo organizers at the US Concealed Carry Association.

A gun show scheduled to take place in Downtown Pittsburgh in May should be cancelled in the wake of the Tree of Life mass shooting, City Council member Rev. Ricky Burgess said Tuesday.

The 2019 Concealed Carry Expo is billed as “an action-packed three-day expo dedicated to American gun owners” that includes “a free live-fire shooting range to test new handguns and a huge selection of gear, services and information from our trusted industry partners,” per the event’s website. Attendees are encouraged to bring their weapons — “Defensive sidearms are welcome inside this show,” a promo reads — as long as they follow any and all applicable laws.

Pointing to October’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue and recurring gun violence in communities across the city and region, Burgess on Tuesday called for the cancellation of the expo, which is slated for Downtown’s David L. Lawrence Convention Center May 17 through 19. It’s an annual event held in cities across the nation — last year’s was held in Louisville, Ky.

In a Tuesday afternoon phone call with The Incline, Burgess said his office would send one letter to the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, the owner of the convention center, and a second to event organizers at the US Concealed Carry Association (USCCA). Both letters were issued by Tuesday afternoon, and both stressed Burgess’s objections to the timing and celebratory nature of the expo.

“I am asking them not to come to Pittsburgh and not have this event given the recent tragedy at Tree of Life as well as ongoing violence in our communities,” Burgess said by phone. “The last thing we need is something to advocate guns. We have 300 million guns in the U.S. and an untold number of homicides and serious shootings. We need less guns, not more.”

Burgess represents District 9, which includes East Hills, East Liberty, Friendship, Garfield, Homewood, Larimer, Lincoln-Lemington-Belmar and North Point Breeze.

In a statement sent to The Incline, Tim Schmidt, the president and founder of the USCCA, said, “The hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Americans who support the USCCA share the heartbreak of criminal activity in Pittsburgh, Thousand Oaks and throughout the country. Too many lives have been lost because murderous maniacs know that many Americans often don’t have the ability to protect themselves, whether they be in places of worship, schools, restaurants or shopping malls.”

Schmidt added, “We would encourage Council member Burgess and any others who may have mistaken, pre-conceived notions about responsibly armed Americans to join us in May because we believe that education is key to finding common ground on self-defense issues.”

Kristin Wenger, communications director with Visit Pittsburgh, said the expo was booked in May 2018.

Burgess, who said he favors eliminating gun shows altogether, added that upon learning of the expo he became “extremely concerned and upset that this is being planned for the city at time like this when families are still in mourning here in Pittsburgh.”

“This event makes a mockery of that tragedy and their grief,” Burgess said.

In February, the mayor of Fort Lauderdale successfully pushed for the cancellation of a gun show there on the heels of a mass shooting at a high school in nearby Parkland that left 17 people dead. (Fort Lauderdale’s subsequent push for a broader and more sustained gun show ban ultimately prompted a First Amendment lawsuit.)

In 2013, gun shows were also cancelled in and around Newtown, Conn., in the wake of the elementary school shooting at Sandy Hook. The same happened in and around Las Vegas after the 2017 mass shooting there. Calls for gun show cancellations were also seen after Columbine.

In Pittsburgh, the Oct. 27 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Squirrel Hill left 11 dead and six wounded. It’s been called the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in U.S. history and is being treated as a hate crime.

According to authorities, the accused gunman, 46-year-old Robert Bowers of Baldwin, arrived at the synagogue during morning services armed with four firearms: an AR-15 rifle and three glock .357 handguns. The New York Times reported that Bowers owned 10 guns in total, all of them legally acquired.

The shooting has prompted renewed discussions among local elected officials about municipal restrictions on firearms in Pittsburgh.

While pro-gun events, including the NRA’s annual convention, have been held in Pittsburgh and at the convention center before, Burgess said he found the timing of this one particularly egregious.

As of Tuesday afternoon, Burgess said he had yet to enlist the support of other council members in opposing the Concealed Carry Expo. He said he would send his letters of objection and then likely work to drum up support from other local leaders.

“I think time is of the essence here,” Burgess said of his decision not to wait.

Multiple emails from The Incline to the mayor’s office and council members on the subject went unreturned. Attempts to contact representatives of the convention center were similarly unsuccessful. An email sent to a spokesperson with the Sports & Exhibition Authority of Pittsburgh and Allegheny County was not immediately responded to.

In an email to The Incline, Wenger said Visit Pittsburgh had yet to hear from anyone concerned about the event but added, “please know that we are very sensitive to this issue.”