In the wake of a series of hate-fueled gun attacks in the United States, we speak with Fred Guttenberg, whose daughter Jaime was killed by a gunman at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in one of the deadliest school shootings in US history this February. As the nation reels from the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and the Kentucky grocery store killing of two African Americans, Guttenberg is calling on voters to elect politicians who stand for gun control in next week’s midterm elections.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We begin today’s show looking at gun violence in the US, less than a week after a gunman entered Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue on Saturday, shooting and killing 11 Jewish worshipers. The massacre has been described as the deadliest anti-Semitic attack in American history. Funeral services were held Wednesday for three of the victims: Joyce Fienberg, Irving Younger and Melvin Wax. More funerals are planned in the coming days.
The Pennsylvania man accused of the mass killings was indicted Wednesday on 44 counts, including murder and hate crimes. Robert Bowers has a history of posting anti-Semitic and xenophobic content. Bowers used an AR-15 assault rifle and three Glocks to carry out the attack. He had purchased all four weapons legally.
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AMY GOODMAN: Pittsburgh has seen major protests in light of the massacre. Thousands demonstrated to protest Donald Trump’s visit to the city. On Wednesday night, protesters gathered at the University of Pittsburgh to rally against hate and gun violence. Shortly after the Pittsburgh massacre Saturday, President Trump called for the arming of houses of worship.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: If they had protection inside, the results would have been far better. This is a dispute that will always exist, I suspect, but if they had some kind of a protection inside the temple, maybe it could have been a very much different situation. But they didn’t.
AMY GOODMAN: But Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto challenged President Trump’s remarks.
MAYOR BILL PEDUTO: I think the approach that we need to be looking at is how we take the guns, which is the common denominator of every mass shooting in America, out of the hands of those that are looking to express hatred through murder.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: The Pittsburgh attack came three days after another act of gun violence, when a white gunman fatally shot two African Americans at a Kentucky grocery store, shortly after trying and failing to enter a black church. Gregory Bush opened fire and killed Maurice Stallard and Vickie Lee Jones at a Kroger supermarket near Louisville, in what many are calling a hate crime.
AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Davie, Florida, where we’re joined by Fred Guttenberg. His 14-year-old daughter Jaime died earlier this year in the mass school shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, on Valentine’s Day. With the midterms just around the corner, he’s calling on voters to elect candidates who support gun safety.
Fred Guttenberg, welcome to Democracy Now!
FRED GUTTENBERG: Good morning.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, our condolences on your daughter Jaime.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: You watched what unfolded in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you describe your reaction? The gunman had an AR-15 and apparently three Glock pistols.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Sadness, anger, outrage. I actually was traveling — excuse me — back from Ohio, campaigning for candidates who support gun safety. And I was in the Atlanta airport when I started seeing these reports. I just — I almost broke down.
You know, my hope was that I would not be the dad that has to watch these events continue to unfold, that we would actually have a chance after this election to start making change. But it happened again, and 11 people dead, because somebody, again, who should never have had access to the weapon that he used, managed to walk — to buy it and then go into a temple with it. And when I hear the elected leaders talking the same nonsense that they did after Parkland, it says to me they still don’t get the underlying problem and what it takes to fix it.
And so, no, the answer isn’t that we start putting armed guards in every temple, every church, arming every teacher, putting armed guards on every street corner, in every mall and every movie theater and every shopping center. That’s not the answer. OK? That’s what the NRA wants, because it just leads to millions more in gun sales. But we must deal with the issue, which is, there are people who have hate in their heart. There are people who do want to kill. And there are people who we must identify and stop from being able to acquire these weapons, or remove the weapons that they have.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Fred, we’re now just days from the midterm elections, and you’re calling for an orange wave in November. Could you talk about what that means?
FRED GUTTENBERG: You know, to me, this election is not red or blue. It’s just not. It’s orange. Orange is the color of the gun safety movement. It was also my daughter’s favorite color. And I am a one-issue candidate in this election. I want candidates who not only will talk about gun safety as a political issue or as a voting issue, but will make it their mandate issue if they are elected to serve. So, I am supporting candidates who are the strongest possible candidates through this cycle on the issues of gun safety, because, to me, what must happen for us to truly get change is this must become a mandate issue in this election.
When the new Congress sits, I want returning members to the House and the Senate to know that they are sitting next to somebody new because the other person got fired for their stand on this issue and the new one got hired. And I want everyone to know, going forward, that if you don’t deal with this issue, you’ll be fired. Those who I’m helping to get elected, I’ll be holding them accountable when they sit and when they serve. And if they don’t do the job to act on this issue, I’ll keep going at it. People we love are dying every day.
AMY GOODMAN: You were just in California campaigning for Mike Levin.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: His opponent, Republican House candidate Diane Harkey, touting support from a group that promoted a conspiracy theory —
FRED GUTTENBERG: I know.
AMY GOODMAN: — about how people died in Parkland, including your daughter. What did she say?
FRED GUTTENBERG: Well, she’s promoting what’s called a false flag theory — basically, the idea that Parkland never actually happened. I guess we’re all a bunch of actors, according to her. And sometimes you’ve got to call out crazy. And that’s crazy. OK? You know, I don’t act. I truly went to visit my daughter at a cemetery yesterday. I truly cried as I was sitting there in the grass trying to get some kind of connection to her. That’s not acting. That’s reality. So when you call that acting, you’re crazy.
Someone who calls that a false flag, who says Parkland didn’t happen, is not only unfit to serve, they shouldn’t even have the ability to get close to running. In that district, Mike Levin deserves to win, and deserves to win big. You cannot have people like that getting close to the halls of our Congress. And so, I did campaign with Mike. I stood on a stage. I had a chance to talk about Mike, but I also had a chance to show them that I am as real as can be, and that this lady, who continues, by the way, to call out conspiracy theories, needs to be voted out and sent away. She should never be able to get close to another election again.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Fred, from the time of Parkland to now — we just had this horrific shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh — do you see a difference in the way that elected officials are now responding to gun violence of this kind, mass killing of this kind, as against what happened after Parkland?
FRED GUTTENBERG: Yeah, see a huge change. You now have elected officials who are running on their support of gun safety, who are proudly showing they have an F rating from the NRA. The elected officials who used to have the A ratings from the NRA, they’re now going quiet. OK? We have the winning message here. And the NRA, for the first time, is backing up. OK? And their chosen people in these races look like they’re going to lose.
The NRA message is a loser. And all they really care about is more killing and more chaos on our streets, where they can push the idea of more gun sales. They’re going to lose. We will get commonsense gun safety done. We will do it in a decent and civil way. But we are going to get something done when this new Congress sits.
AMY GOODMAN: You became well known in this country, after your daughter was murdered at Parkland, at that CNN town hall. You sparred with Republican Senator Marco Rubio. Here’s a clip of your exchange.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Your comments this week and those of our president have been pathetically weak. So, you and I are now eye to eye, because I want to like you. Look at me and tell me guns were the factor in the hunting of our kids in the school this week. And look at me and tell me you accept it and you will work with us to do something about guns.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Now, I think what you’re asking about is the assault weapons ban.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Yes, sir.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: So let me be honest with you about that one. If I believed that that law would have prevented this from happening, I would support it. But I want to explain to you why it would not.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Senator Rubio, my daughter, running down the hallway at Marjory Stoneman Douglas —
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yes, sir.
FRED GUTTENBERG: — was shot in the back —
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yes, sir.
FRED GUTTENBERG: — with an assault weapon, the weapon of choice.
SEN. MARCO RUBIO: Yes, sir.
FRED GUTTENBERG: OK? It’s too easy to get. It is a weapon of war. The fact that you can’t stand with everybody in this building and say that, I’m sorry.
AMY GOODMAN: Fred Guttenberg, that was you challenging the Florida senator. What changed after that?
FRED GUTTENBERG: You know, I think the energy behind us parents who have stepped up and the kids who have stepped up and our continued push and our continually driving this message and our continually showing we’re not going away, Americans paid attention, and this election became the story. And this election became the way for us to show we’re going to get something done.
I want to say something about that exchange, because I see history repeating itself with Trump and some of the elected officials, where they want to talk about anything but the gun. My anger in that exchange was directed at the fact that running up to that night, Rubio and Trump talked about a lot of things with regards to what happened on February 14th, but they never once used the word “gun.” And these same elected officials right now want to talk about hatred and anti-Semitism, which, as a Jewish person, I’m horrified by, and it’s real, but they’re using that to avoid talking about the gun and what we need to do about the gun. And unfortunately, the people who are using this anti-Semitism are the same people who lit the flame, who lit the fuse over the past two years. So, I’m not going to let them get away with talking about that at the expense of talking about the gun, because it’s both things.
And we do have a problem in this country where access to those weapons is simply too easy. And we are allowing people who literally are going online and they’re telling us that they hate, and they’re telling us that they want to do this — and we’re not taking steps to prevent them from doing it. We’ve passed red flag laws here in Florida to keep — to be able to remove weapons from those who intend harm to themself or someone else, or domestic abusers. Listen, I think we ought to be extending that to those who use online platforms to verbalize hate to others, to verbalize violence to others. If they’re telling us they’re going to do it, we should take them seriously.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Fred, I want to go to what the NRA has been saying. Earlier this week, they tweeted, quote, “Another billionaire is pumping unlimited money into electing anti-gun lawmakers.”
FRED GUTTENBERG: Yeah.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: “Notorious anti-gunner George Soros joins anti-gun billionaires Steyer and Bloomberg. There is no end to how much they’ll pay to push their elitist agenda on Americans.” Fred, could you respond to that? What does the NRA mean? What are they trying to say when they say “elitist agenda”?
FRED GUTTENBERG: Well, I’ll say two things. Number one, any billionaire who wants to help with the safety of Americans, bring it. But regarding what the NRA is saying, it’s horribly anti-Semitic. And, you know, I was not a politically involved person before February 14. And I remember — and you can go back and look at my Twitter over the month, at how often people said to me I was a “Soros-funded tool.” And I didn’t really know at the — I didn’t know like know what to make of it. I wasn’t like — you know, George Soros, I’ve seen stuff about him before. But people kept on making that accusation against me. And even as recently as the Kavanaugh handshake, I was getting a lot of online venom saying I’m a “Soros-funded tool.” Like I had an idea that somebody wouldn’t return a handshake. I’ve never met George Soros. I don’t know George Soros. The only connection to George Soros that I have is he and I happen to both be Jewish.
And so, when the NRA does that, their anti-Semitism is showing. When the NRAmakes other kinds of connections, or when you go to these gun shows and you see the sales of KKK merchandise, their racism is showing. The NRA is a racist and anti-Semitic organization. And they have made that clear time and time again. The problem is, we have elected Republican officials who parrot that message. So when people say, “You’re Soros-funded,” or “You’re Bloomberg-funded,” or “You’re Steyer-funded,” the only connection I have to them is my Judaism. Never met them in my life. Oh, I did meet Michael Bloomberg three weeks ago. He was here in Parkland. But it’s anti-Semitism. That’s what it is. And they need to be called out for it. And they need to lose, because they use that language.
AMY GOODMAN: In fact, Kevin McCarthy, the House majority leader, had tweeted something along those lines in the midst of the letter bombs —
FRED GUTTENBERG: Yes, he did.
AMY GOODMAN: — the first one being sent to Soros. And he was forced to retract that tweet. It ended with the hashtag #MAGA.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Right? “Make America Great Again.”
FRED GUTTENBERG: Listen, Kevin McCarthy, with that tweet — and he thought deleting it would get rid of it. No, it’s not, and it’s on my Twitter and many other people’s. Kevin McCarthy should not only never be serving in leadership, Kevin McCarthy should be voted out of office. When you go and you publicly say, “I am anti-Semitic, and I am racist,” you do not deserve to serve Americans, period.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you very much, Fred Guttenberg, for being with us, father of Parkland shooting victim Jaime. She was 14 years old when she was gunned down in Parkland at her high school on February 14th.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Can I say one more thing about another leader?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes, Fred.
FRED GUTTENBERG: Because I think it’s — Mitch McConnell, he has been absolutely silent since last week with the bombings and with what happened in Pittsburgh. He has been silent. And he is, right now, the — he is the elected leader of the Senate. His silence should be ringing loud and clear for everybody who needs to vote in a Senate race. He needs to be fired from Senate leadership. And the only way to do that is to flip Senate seats. So, whether you’re in Texas, Tennessee, Arizona, any of these places that have seats where you can flip, Mitch McConnell must be fired. His silence is part of why we are in the place that we’re in today in this country, and he needs to go away.
AMY GOODMAN: Fred Guttenberg, thanks so much for being with us.
When we come back, award-winning journalist Allan Nairn talking about the state of the nation in these few days before the elections. As the threat from within is so strong, with one white supremacist attack after another, the president looks outward and tries to talk about terrorists threatening this country on the southern border. We’ll talk about all of this and more. Stay with us.