You know the horrific facts:
- 22 people were murdered and 25 injured by a gunman in El Paso, Texas on Saturday.
- 9 people were murdered and 27 injured by a gunman in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday.
- We’re up to 255 mass shootings in our country this year.
Responding to this major crisis, Dan Rather wrote:
“Will gun violence be an easy problem to solve? Of course not. Will there be a single solution? No. Will there still be tragedy and death? Yes. But does any of that mean we shouldn’t try to do SOMETHING?”
We must do something. We must try a lot of things. We have to find ways to fix this.
No, there won’t be a single solution. This is a complex problem with many layers, but our society has created this mess and it’s our responsibility to clean it up. It’s not going to be easy. We’re not all going to agree. We’re going to have to compromise, give and bend to stop this insanity. Some might say that there’s no way we’ll all be satisfied with the solution. But, if somehow, someway, we figure out how to reduce (God willing eliminate!) these attacks, how can we all not be satisfied?
I support the Second Amendment and the “right of the people to keep and bear Arms.” However, the unending gun violence across our country, including right here in Broward County, the hate that has put minority communities, including our own Jewish community, in the line of fire, and common sense inspired by Jewish wisdom make it explicitly clear to me that many of the weapons we’re entitled to have in our homes have become too powerful and, thus, too dangerous.
Judaism teaches that we have an obligation to defend ourselves: “One who comes to slay you, rise up and slay him.” (Talmud – Berachot 58a) But, at the same time, Judaism teaches that when we defend ourselves, we must do so in a way that is responsible:
“From where is it derived that one may not raise a vicious dog in his house, and that one may not set up an unstable ladder in his house? As it is stated: ‘You shall not bring blood into your house’ (Deuteronomy 22:8), which means that one may not allow a hazardous situation to remain in his house. Similarly, a person should not keep a dangerous ox in his possession. This is why Rabbi Eliezer rules that no level of safeguarding is sufficient; the ox should be slaughtered so that it will not cause damage.” (Talmud – Bava Kamma 46a)
From this we learn that having a weapon in our possession that can bring about unnecessary bloodshed is reckless. Defend ourselves, our tradition says, but in a responsible way.
Yes, the level of danger associated with a gun has a lot to do with the person using the gun. We must make certain that there are laws in place that give only responsible, mentally healthy, trained and licensed individuals the right to own guns. At the same time, we as a society must decide when a gun becomes a “vicious dog” or “dangerous ox.” How we do this won’t be easy.
Terms like “assault weapon” and “military-style weapon” are used to label guns that many of us think are more dangerous than others. The fact is, these labels are often misused and don’t give us a clear sense of the problem. This being said, from 1994-2004, the United States banned “assault weapons” and defined these weapons in federal law as “semiautomatic assault weapons” that “were identified either by specific make or model, or by specific characteristics that slightly varied according to whether the weapon was a pistol, rifle, or shotgun.” The federal ban also prohibited the manufacturing of “large capacity ammunition feeding devices” specifically “any magazine, belt, drum, feed strip, or similar device…that has the capacity of, or that can be readily restored or converted to accept, more than 10 rounds of ammunition.” The ban had a grandfather clause and specific exemptions and exceptions. (Click here for more information.)
In response to the attacks in El Paso and Dayton, President Bill Clinton said that the federal ban on assault weapons led to “a big drop in mass shooting deaths. When the ban expired,” he said, “they rose again. We must act now.” While some have questioned the effectiveness of the ban and others assert that universal background checks and stricter regulations are the way to go, a 2015 study found that the federal assault weapons ban did result in a reduction in mass shooting fatalities and injuries. A 2019 study supported these findings and showed that during the federal ban, “mass-shooting fatalities were 70% less likely to occur.” It appears that banning certain types of weapons, specifically those that can fire more than 10 rounds of ammunition at a time, while not eliminating the threat of mass shootings, has the potential to reduce deaths associated with these attacks.
Seven states and the District of Columbia have laws that ban “assault weapons.” Florida does not. Nine states and the District of Columbia have laws that ban large capacity ammunition magazines. Florida does not. Some are trying to get an amendment on Florida’s 2020 ballot that:
Prohibits the possession of assault weapons, defined as semiautomatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition at once, either in fixed or detachable magazine, or any other ammunition-feeding device. Possession of handguns is not prohibited. Exempts military and law enforcement personnel in their official duties. Exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date. Creates criminal penalties for violations of this amendment.
This proposed amendment won’t fix all of our problems. While polling shows that the vast majority of Floridians support banning “assault weapons,” the proposed amendment is controversial. It will face legal hurdles. But, it’s a start – a way to get us talking, thinking, debating and, hopefully, making a decision regarding guns and gun safety in our state. Given some of the conversations I’ve had with local, state and federal leaders, both Democrats and Republicans, given the current impasse in Washington and given the fact that we must stop being complacent about the violence we’re facing in our country, I believe that getting as many of us focused on this proposed amendment is one of the best things we can do right now as Floridians to effect the change we so desperately need. (Needless to say, there are many other things we can and must focus on regarding this issue!) Getting the amendment on the ballot does not in any way guarantee its success. It does, however, force the issue and puts the power in the hands of Floridians – where it belongs.
If you’d like to learn more about the proposed amendment, please click here.