In the wake of the horrific synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh this weekend, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams announced that he would bring his own gun into houses of worship in the future, and encouraged off-duty officers to do the same. "From now on, I will bring my handgun every time I enter a church or synagogue," he said at a news conference outside a Jewish family services center in Midwood on Sunday.
"I used to carry my gun all the time when I went to church," Adams, a retired NYPD captain and 22-year police vet, said at the event outside Ohel Bais Ezra Children’s Home and Family Services Center. "If we have police officers standing in front of churches, then we can't say it's wrong for a police officer who's off-duty to be inside churches with a gun...If they're leaving those firearms home, I now say to them: Stop leaving your firearm home. Do as I do. Bring your firearm to church."
"We have to live in the real universe that we're in," he added. "It's not popular, but it's right...I'm not going to live the way it ought to be, I'm going to live the way it is."
— Ivan Pereira (@IvanPer4) October 28, 2018
A spokesperson clarified Adams' statement when contacted for comment: "The BP believes that we can address security concerns at houses of worship by encouraging off-duty law enforcement who have carry permits and are specially trained in active shooter situations to bring their firearms to their houses of worship as an extra security precaution," said spokesperson Eugene Resnick. "If an on-duty police officer can guard a house of worship outside of the premises, then there’s no reason why he or she should not be able to do the same inside while off duty."
Adams's statement echoes something President Trump said after the deadly shooting: "If there was an armed guard inside the temple, they would have been able to stop him," he said. That assertion drew widespread condemnation, in part because armed officers did respond to the scene on Saturday, exchanging gunfire with alleged shooter Robert Bowers. Four on-duty officers in tactical gear were shot and injured, and Bowers was allegedly still able to kill 11 people with an AR-15-style assault rifle and at least three handguns.
The debate over whether people should be allowed, let alone encouraged, to bring concealed weapons into houses of worship has been happening for years now (though it was definitely amplified by Trump's own promotion of the issue). There have been countless studies and academic papers written about how having more guns around does not keep people safer (and also that gun control really truly does work). Robert Spitzer, a professor of political science at SUNY Cortland, told NPR earlier this year that there's little evidence that so-called "good guys with a gun" can provide meaningful help in a mass shooting. The statistics indicate that defensive gun use is incredibly rare, and more problematic than not. And yet, many Americans (and some churches) still seem to agree with Adams. They would rather blame the doors than the shooter.
White male privilege is walking into a synagogue, shooting people dead, and the press blames the door. https://t.co/Lv6LKxLILi
— Erica Buist (@ericabuist) October 29, 2018
After the shooting, the NYPD did redeploy some counterterrorism teams to many houses of worship on Sunday "out of an abundance of caution.” But Adams's remarks have been met with skepticism by many city officials, including Mayor de Blasio, who told an interfaith gathering at Temple Emanu-El on the Upper East Side, "Houses of worship do not have to have armed guards to be able to practice their religions...That’s not America."
City councilman Mark Levine, who is Jewish, told the Times, "I think that there is no freedom of religion in a society that requires you to carry a gun while you pray...I don’t want to have to sit next to someone carrying a gun in the pews."
Pittsburgh’s mayor, Bill Peduto, was also asked about the question of whether there should be more armed guards at houses of worship while appearing on Meet The Press: "I don’t think that the answer to this problem is solved by having our synagogues, mosques and churches filled with armed guards."
Even former NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly wasn't sold on the idea: "I don’t know about armed guards," he said while appearing on a radio show yesterday. "That armed guard could be the first person killed. You had four police officers wounded yesterday. There is no panacea."
There was one local official who did speak in favor of Adams: Assemblyman Dov Hikind, who told the Times "the idea of having security at Jewish institutions that are especially targets is something important. It’s a must."
I applaud and agree with @BPEricAdams and I am registering immediately for a gun license. And I encourage other Jews to do so to protect their institutions and synagogues. If we are targets, we need to be prepared.https://t.co/2nKg9cof8p
— Dov Hikind (@HikindDov) October 28, 2018
If you are looking for a way to help those affected by the shooting in Pittsburgh, we recommend you donate directly to the Tree of Life Congregation or HIAS, a Jewish organization that has worked to bring refugees of all backgrounds and origins into the US.