This one hit close to home.

The Pittsburgh shooting that left 11 Jewish worshippers dead occurred in our sister big city — a member of the family.

Since the modern era of mass shootings, we've come to expect similar responses to each one:  despair, numbness, and surprise that once again, nothing is different, that nothing has changed.

Unfortunately, Saturday's shooting comes at a point where things have changed – for the worse. The divides among us, the anger and fear that is often encouraged – explicitly and implicitly — by our leaders,  including the president, have grown deeper.   As "the other" is seen as a threat, we are being trained to suspect one another.   Outrageous theories are given credence and not shoved back into a dark hole where they belong.

In an armed nation, that's going to have dire consequences.

Some voices of reason said in response to the weekend shooting,  "This isn't who we are,"  and that expecting armed guards in places of worship "isn't America."

But it is who we are.  It is America.  In fact, it's only America.

It's also Pennsylvania. This weekend is a tragic reminder of why state gun laws matter.    The Pennsylvania state legislature has routinely killed efforts at reasonable gun control, prohibiting municipalities to make their own laws and supporting the right for the NRA to sue cities. The legislature recently had a chance to pass three major gun laws.  It managed only one — making it easier to require violent domestic abusers to surrender their guns.

Our neighboring state, New Jersey, has some of the toughest gun-safety laws in the nation.  In 2016, it suffered 485 gun deaths, compared to Pennsylvania's 1,555.   Here's how the two states compare on key gun laws, according to the Giffords Law Center.

Concealed carry:

N.J.: Requires proof of need

Pa.:  Few restrictions

Assault weapons:

N.J.: Most banned

Pa.:  Legal

Background checks on assault weapons:

N.J.: All gun sales subject to background checks

Pa.: None required in private sales of long guns, which includes assault rifles. (Handgun sales require background checks).

Magazine size of assault weapons:

N.J.:  Limits to 10 rounds

Pa.:  No limit

Waiting period to buy a handgun:

N.J.: Seven days or longer

Pa.: None

Lost or stolen

N.J.:  Owners required to report when guns are lost or stolen

Pa.:  No requirement

Child safety

N.J.: Holds parents criminally liable if children gain access to a gun

Pa.:  No laws


N.J.:  Felons, violent domestic abusers, those who pose a danger to themselves or others have to surrender guns.

Pa.: Convicted felons cannot carry guns. Violent domestic abusers must surrender guns.

Castle doctrine:

N.J.: Not expanded to include "stand your ground"

Pa.:  Includes "stand your ground," which permits people to use deadly force anywhere they feel threatened.

Civilized people have a way to express themselves other than using a gun.  They use the ballot box.   Next week, you can express yourself to lawmakers and insist they curb the tide of guns and violence.