Rabbi Danny Burkeman
On Sunday night my son Benjamin couldn’t sleep. It goes without saying that I couldn’t sleep either. As I tried to comfort him I watched the minutes and the hours tick by. Finding myself awake during the night my mind always races, and as I held my son I kept thinking about the type of world I want to be raising my children in. In that moment I resolved that I don’t want my children to grow up in a place where gun violence is tolerated or accepted, and that as a parent I have an obligation, for my children, to take action.
“The voice of my brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground” [Genesis 4:10] but I have remained silent in the face of this epidemic. This voice has been crying out in this great nation for far too long. In response to Fort Hood, Aurora, Sandy Hook, Connecticut, Washington DC, Charleston, and San Bernardino I simply waited, we simply waited, for the new names that will be added to this list in the near future. And then in the early hours of Sunday morning the Pulse Club in Orlando, Florida was added to this list of sorrow.
After the Charleston shooting at the African Methodist Episcopal Church I tweeted that my thoughts and prayers were with the victim. In the aftermath of the San Bernardino shooting, as with all other shootings, there was a spike in the words “thoughts and prayers” across social media platforms. Our thoughts and prayers were with the victims, their families, friends, teachers, neighbors and first responders. So many thoughts and prayers -- that finally Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut, who represents the people affected by the Newtown grade school shooting, tweeted to the world: “Your "thoughts" should be about steps to take to stop this carnage. Your "prayers" should be for forgiveness if you do nothing - again.” On the following day the New York Daily News’ front page read quite simply: “God isn’t fixing this.”
They’re right. God isn’t fixing this, and our “thoughts and prayers” to God are insufficient. Yes, Judaism is a religion of prayer, but our prayers are not requests for God to fix the situation but are pleas for support from God as our words turn to action. We are told in the Bible’s holiness code: “do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.” [Leviticus 19:16]
Yet since Newtown, all we’ve done is buy more locks. In the synagogue where I work we have invested in a new security system and instituted a locked door policy. We’ve essentially built bigger and higher walls around ourselves and our community to ensure our safety. Today, children across America walk through metal detectors, or know that if a certain alarm sounds while they are at school, they need to go to the cupboard in the classroom and play “statue.” These are all unfortunate and necessary precautions that treat the symptoms. But we have done nothing to address the problem.
I realize now that no “thoughts and prayers,” while important, are enough. One mass shooting is too many and 355 mass shootings in a single year is a tragedy and embarrassment to this country, its citizens, the founding fathers who imagined a different type of society, and those who claim a mantel of faith.
And now we have witnessed the largest mass shooting in American history. This was an act of terror and an act of hate, but this must not hide the fact that this was also another unforgivable act of gun violence. Omar Mateen was able to legally purchase guns and an assault rifle, which he then used to murder 49 innocent people.
The second amendment gives people the right to bear arms, but it also specifies that this right must be well regulated. We need regulation. We should support the Brady Campaign, Everytown for Gun Safety, and other organizations committed to gun violence reduction. And we must lobby our politicians to ensure the introduction of legislation in pursuit of gun violence prevention. As a priority the ownership of automatic and semi-automatic weapons must be out-lawed. Furthermore there need to be stricter regulations on where and how guns can be sold, we need to increase the stringency of background checks, and there should be limits on how many guns and how much ammunition an individual can possess.
Once again we have been presented with a choice. What type of country do we want our children to grow up in? To do nothing is to implicitly give our consent to the ongoing cycle of gun violence in this country. We have a responsibility to one another, we have a duty to our children, and we have an obligation to act.
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