Collier’s Weekly: Maybe Kennywood Isn’t Fully Secure — But Nowhere Else Is, Either

In the midst of an inquiry from the Allegheny County District Attorney’s office, it’s worth remembering that the beloved park is the victim of a gun-violence trend — not an enabler of it.
Kennywood Main Entrance


A Post-Gazette headline over the weekend presented a surprising quote from Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr.: “I don’t think it’s safe.”

The “it” in that startlingly blunt quotation is Kennywood, the enduring theme park and local institution that just days earlier held a press event introducing its new offerings for the 2023 season. Responding to ongoing concerns after a late-night shooting at the park that occurred last September, Zappala seemed to hint at severe consequences for the park.

“I’d hate to see the opening of Kennywood be delayed,” he told the paper, “but I’m very serious and law enforcement is very serious about making that environment safe.”

Unfortunately, if he’s waiting to be convinced that gun violence cannot possibly occur at Kennywood, he’s going to be waiting for quite a while. I hate to state the obvious, but that’s a guarantee Kennywood can’t make — because, in a country with more guns than people, no one can make that guarantee.

One need only consider the vast number of different places where gunfire has erupted in recent months — either locally or on a national scale — to confirm that security is, in fact, never a guarantee. There were 647 mass shootings in the United States last year, more than one per day; that tally doesn’t even count the thousands of incidents such as the violence at Kennywood that blessedly didn’t rise to the definition of a mass shooting.

When I was first working on this column, I was receiving breaking-news notifications about another mass shooting at a school in Nashville, Tennessee. As I’m editing it, I’m monitoring a slate of thankfully fraudulent active-shooter alerts throughout Pittsburgh. Gun violence is an American epidemic.

In that regard, Zappala’s right; it’s not safe. Nowhere is.

I spoke with both Kennywood and the district attorney about the issue. Kennywood’s representatives remain mostly tight-lipped about the situation, and have described it as a “political” spat, both to me and the Post-Gazette.

Zappala, however, says that the park has not worked in good faith to ensure that it is as secure as possible. He claims that park officials have not cooperated with his office and have neglected to make what he sees as obvious improvements in security and monitoring throughout the park. He told me of several other cases where violence occurred at locations ranging from local businesses to franchises of multinational corporations; in each, he says, the business cooperated fully with his office, and Kennywood hasn’t done that. (Kennywood would not address those claims.)

Zappala also sought to clarify that he has no interest in delaying the park’s opening date — he rather wants to ensure that the park is as safe as can be on that day.

I can’t speculate on how cooperative Kennywood has been or should be, although I’m sure they could be doing more — and certainly could be handling the situation more deftly from a public-relations standpoint. Feuding with local officials is never a good look. To be fair, neither is criticizing a beloved theme park.

I do think, however, that placing focus on Kennywood’s shortcomings in light of September’s shooting is misguided — like blaming a tree in a field for being struck by lightning during a thunderstorm. There are precious few environments where one can be confident there aren’t firearms present. It is nearly impossible to ensure that a patch of land the size of Kennywood — a hillside piece of acreage built to fit into its natural landscape, not a fortified Guantanamo Bay of amusement — is free of contraband of any kind.

The September incident didn’t occur because of anything the park did or did not do. It occurred because we lack the civic tenacity and political will to meaningfully address the overabundance and lethality of firearms in this country. A war of words between the district attorney and Kennywood may generate headlines — another one’s right up there — but it does not make anyone more safe.

Categories: Collier’s Weekly