Friday marks the six-month anniversary of the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School that claimed 26 lives.
Pat Murray said she sees similarities between Newtown, Conn., where the school is located, and her hometown of Mt. Lebanon.
"I hope we don't face anything like that," she said about the Dec. 14 tragedy. "But I don't think we have any guarantees."
Ms. Murray, a member of Women for Action South Hills, was moderator of a question-and-answer session during a forum addressing gun violence held last week in Bower Hill Presbyterian Church in Mt. Lebanon.
Representatives from 27 organizations and about 80 audience members gathered to discuss ways to help mitigate deaths and injuries caused by firearms in the United States.
The Rev. Brian Snyder, Bower Hill pastor, said the event marked the third such forum in the Pittsburgh area, but the first in a suburban setting. "It is appropriate because we know that gun violence is not a uniquely urban problem," he said.
Mr. Snyder noted two fairly recent examples of multivictim fatal shootings nearby: Richard Baumhammers' racially motivated murders of five people in 2000, and George Sodini killing three people and wounding nine before shooting himself in 2009 at L.A. Fitness in Collier.
Mr. Baumhammers had been a member of the Bower Hill church.
"The killing is here, and we insist something be done," Mr. Snyder said.
The forum featured panelists from a variety of organizations, including the Allegheny County district attorney's office, UPMC and various gun-control advocacy groups. Also on the panel were representatives of U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle, D-Forest Hills, and Mt. Lebanon School District superintendent Timothy Steinhauer.
Among the panelists was Rob Conroy of CeaseFire PA, a Philadelphia-based coalition of survivors and advocates taking a stand against gun violence and criminals who use and traffic in guns illegally. He outlined several pieces of pending legislation that his group supports:
• Universal background checks, which now are required only for sales of handguns and firearms sold by federally licensed dealers.
• Requirements to report guns that are lost or stolen in Pennsylvania. Mr. Conroy said several municipalities have enacted ordinances to that effect, but they have faced court challenges by the National Rifle Association.
• A state law limiting the availability of high-capacity magazines.
• Closing a loophole that allows residents who have been denied a Pennsylvania concealed firearms permit to apply for one from another state.
"We want to keep firearms out of people's hands who shouldn't have these guns," Mr. Conroy said.
While most of the forum's participants favor strict gun-control laws, one offered another view.
"We have to remember, there are people who feel a different way," said Katelyn King, Western Pennsylvania regional manager for Mr. Toomey. He recently co-sponsored a bipartisan background checks amendment, but was one of only three Republican senators to vote for it.
Ms. King said his intent is to "get something started where we can agree. Finding compromise from a government perspective is what we hope to accomplish."
Regarding local policy, Mr. Steinhauer said the district received much feedback from residents in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy, but no changes are forthcoming.
"It's a sad reality that schools have to spend so much time thinking about safety," he said.
He also asked how many audience members would support NRA recommendations to arm teachers and other school employees. None answered yes.
"I am happy to see that this audience doesn't believe teachers should be carrying guns," said Mr. Steinhauer.
Kathie Breckenridge, another member of Women for Action South Hills, spearheaded organizing the forum. "Many people here think we're sort of in a bubble and safe," she said. "I don't think we are safe, and we need to make ourselves safer."
Harry Funk, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.