- Saturday’s mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which left 11 dead, reignited a debate about armed security at places of worship.
- Robert Bowder, who was charged with the attack, had three handguns and an AR-15, a weapon designed for war.
- It’s not clear if the synagogue already had an armed guard. Four police officers were injured.
- Synagogues often already employ armed security on major holidays.
- Armed security is more frequent in places with historic anti-Semitism.
The murder of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Saturday has renewed a debate over whether places of worship should have armed guards.
It’s not clear if the synagogue already had an armed guard. Four police officers were wounded in the attack. Robert Bowers, who faces 29 charges following the mass shooting, wielded at least three handguns and an AR-15, a weapon designed for war that’s legally available to purchase and has been used in most major mass shootings in America. The synagogue did not receive any threats before the attack, according to CNN.
President Donald Trump theorised before a campaign rally Saturday that “the results would have been far better” if the Tree of Life synagogue had an armed guard inside.
“This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside they may have been able to stop him immediately, maybe there would have been nobody killed, except for him maybe,” he said.
Pittsburgh Mayor William Peduto rejected the idea, saying that it would be better to control access to guns from people who express a desire for violence. Before the attack, Bowers suggested on social media that he would take action against a Jewish organisation that helped refugees.
“We should take the guns, which are the common denominator of every mass shooting in America, out of the hands of those looking to express hatred through murder,” Peduto said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday.
Judaism is a decentralized religion with no central body of leadership, and security arrangements vary from synagogue to synagogue. But it’s not uncommon for synagogues to have armed security guards or police on hand for major Jewish holidays, when attendance increases.
In places with a deeper history of antisemitism, like Europe, it’s common for synagogues to have armed security, often paid for by the state. In France, after the January 2015 terrorist attacks that included the murder of four people in a Kosher grocery store, Opération Sentinelle involved sending 10,000 troops to protect Jewish sites around the country. Currently, France uses its troops to maintain security for more than 200 synagogues and other Jewish sites.
In the US, various waves of anti-Semitic attacks have led to increased security measures at times – most notably in 1999 when a Los Angeles synagogue was attacked by a shooter, and following September 11.
David Friedman, the Anti-Defamation League’s vice president for law enforcement and community security, advises synagogues around the United States on security matters. He told the Los Angeles Times that more Jewish communities reached out to him after the shooting on advice for increasing security.
Steven Markowitz, chairman of the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County, told Newsday that he predicts synagogues would have more police officers stationed outside them, as in Europe.
“I never thought we’d have to deal with that here,” he said.
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