As a six-year old, Judah Samet had survived one of the worst nightmares of his life when he survived Bergen-Belsen, a Nazi death camp. So many years later, he had sheer luck to thank for defying death once again as he survived a deadly shootout at a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania because, as he told The Times of Israel, “My housekeeper kept me for four minutes.” Eleven others, however, were not so fortunate. The victims were all middle-aged or elderly and were in various professions including accountancy and medicine. The oldest victim was 97 years of age.
The alleged shooter was a person named Robert Bower, a truck driver from Pittsburgh who lives near the Jewish synagogue he ultimately chose to attack. Bower was described as a man who kept to himself mostly – his neighbour had seen him occasionally but had forgotten his name. Despite his quiet exterior, he was very active on a social media platform for the far right called Gab. Shortly before the shooting, he posted, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.”
By far, the biggest impediment to a solution is when people find easy access to guns
Anti-Semitism is not something that is new in the United States. Even during and after World War II, for example, General Patton was a known anti-Semitic. Patton said once that Jews had “no sense of human relationships” and lived in filth like lazy “locusts”. He even criticised the process of denazification of Germany and of German officers. Later in the twentieth century, the academic David Greenberg noted that US President Richard Nixon had a “reputation as a hateful, vindictive anti-Semite”. Even today, there are a number of white supremacist organisations like the Klan, the American Nazi Party and others.
Incidences of hate crimes seems to be reported more in the media these days, from the United States. While true figures are not necessarily accessible, it may be possible to argue that anti-Semitic incidence may have increased, even if slightly, under the current administration. Donald Trump has been a divisive President ever since he took office. His handling of the incident at Charlottesville, Virginia set the tone on a national scale – not for anti-Semitism per se but for radical, extremist groups to feel more confident about projecting themselves. President Trump did attend a memorial for the deceased, along with First Lady Melania Trump, but his visit was the subject of some protests by angered Pittsburgh citizens.
Another debate that such an incident raises is that of gun control. There are a lot of other issues that America has tried to cite as causes for mass shootings at various points in time, including mental health issues. While all that may have played a part in these killings, the underlying issue is that the US of A has a gun problem. Americans can raise their voices about the Second Amendment, and that scrapping it would cause all hell to break loose; but the unregulated sales of arms within the United States, the easy access that the common citizen has to it, and an organisation called the National Rifle Association are the reasons that things go horrendously wrong. And before you say that it is impossible to maintain gun control through a series of governmental measures and legislation, it might be worth taking a look at Australia. The island nation has effectively almost ended gun violence by passing laws denying their citizens the right to carry arms for personal protection. As a vindication for this measure, Australia saw 32 homicides committed with a gun in the year 2014 – the last year for which these statistics are available. By comparison, more than 500 people died through gun related crime in the city of Chicago alone in 2017.
A lot of factors go into a mass shooting with regard to the assailant – the kind of person that they were, their belief system, their mental health and so on and so forth. But by far, the biggest impediment to a solution is when people find easy access to guns. Combined with a politically volatile environment where extremist elements can find a voice and appear to be legitimate in a country where anti-Semitism has never truly been eradicated, the result is a shootout in a Jewish synagogue that leaves behind a trail of bodies.