Our nation is talking about guns. Gun control. Guns in schools. Armed guards. Banning assault weapons. The Second Amendment. “The right to keep and bear arms.” The NRA. Guns in movies. Guns in video games.
We are still, understandably, reeling from Newtown, Connecticut. We are looking for answers. We want to insure the safety of our children. But, we are struggling with how to do this. This struggle is captured by the fact that so many parents want to see a reduction of guns in our society – but, yet, at the same time, want armed guards in their children’s schools.
As President Obama prepares for his second inauguration, he has responded to the recent tragedies and the concern of so many Americans by announcing plans to toughen gun laws, creating a gun control plan that, he believes, will help end the violence that we have seen in our schools, theaters and offices. Not surprisingly, his plan has ignited an intense debate over gun rights. His plan also leaves many questioning how effective it would be at decreasing gun violence.
Frank Mann, a staff reporter of the Chicago Sun-Times, interviewed a young Chicago gang member back in August (http://goo.gl/O3Jnh). Chicago has experienced a terrible amount of shootings recently. The gang member that Mr. Mann interviewed made it clear that anyone who wants to can get a gun from “gun-guys” or “straw purchasers” who buy guns from suburban stores and illegally sell them to criminals. If you can’t get a gun from a “straw purchaser”, the gang member explained to Mr. Mann, you rob a gun store or buy a gun that was stolen by someone else.
Mr. Mann’s article is just one reason many are asking if gun control is really going to stop the “wrong” people from getting weapons. Some are arguing that the problems we are facing are much deeper than guns. These folks are urging us to explore mental health and other issues related to violence in our culture. While they are not necessarily opposed to exploring gun control legislation, they realistically remind us that such legislation is only the tip of the enormous iceberg. There is much work to be done and we have an obligation to do it.
Without a doubt, addressing gun violence is going to involve a passionate national argument. Judaism encourages us to have this argument, teaching us in Pirkei Avot that “any dispute which is for the sake of heaven will endure” – meaning that any debate that is for a good cause will, eventually, bring about good results. Unfortunately, as I have watched, read and listened to this debate unfold, I have been disturbed by its tenor. The barbs coming from both sides – those supporting gun rights and those supporting gun control – are not helping us come together and create an enduring solution.
As a rabbi, I have been particularly troubled by two well-known members of the media who have demonized many responsible gun owners in a way that also insults the Jewish people.
This week, CBS’s Bob Schieffer said that: “Surely, finding Osama bin Laden…passing civil rights legislation…[and] defeating the Nazis, was a much more formidable task than taking on the gun lobby.” While some of us might not like guns and/or the positions and statements of the NRA, to draw any comparison between responsible gun owners who make up the “gun lobby” and terrorists, racists and murderers is wrong on so many levels. And as leaders in the Jewish community have said for years, the Nazi reference only serves to trivialize the Holocaust and offend survivors and those who fought valiantly against the Nazis in World War II. This type of rhetoric is not how we, as a nation, are going to solve this complex problem.
Also this week, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof retweeted a message from the extremely controversial M. J. Rosenberg, in which Rosenberg called the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC – of which I am a proud member) and the National Rifle Association (NRA) “the 2 most pig-like lobbies” in America. Kristof shared this tweet as the New York Times was condemning Egypt’s President Morsi for calling Jews the “descendants of apes and pigs”. Mr. Kristof, who actually follows me on Twitter, has not responded to the outrage his “retweet” has caused. I along with many others, have reached out to him asking if this “retweet” reflects his views on the NRA and AIPAC. No one seems to have gotten a response. Certainly people can disagree with the stance of the NRA. To call it a “pig-like lobby” is childish and not at all productive. To lump AIPAC the premier Israel lobby into the debate and to refer to AIPAC also as “pig-like” – is outrageous.
Comparing groups to the Nazis, calling them pig-like and pulling Israel and AIPAC into this debate fans flames of hate. The ad put out by the NRA focusing upon the President’s daughters, in my opinion, seriously crossed the line – making it so clear that “battle lines” have been drawn. Verbal shots are being fired. People are attacking and being attacked – and this is further undermining the already violent, dysfunctional society that witnessed the horrific shooting in Newtown. I thought we wanted to stop the anger, the attacks, the hatred, the bullying, the name-calling and everything else that plays a role in the violence that permeates our country. If we do – we all need to respectfully agree to disagree, compromise and find a way to heal our nation. Let’s all make certain we do our part to bring about healing and find enduring solutions for this complex dispute that is, without a doubt, for the sake of heaven.