September 20, 2018

Why I Miss the ’60s

Former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney joins the rally during a "March For Our Lives" demonstration demanding gun control in New York City, U.S. March 24, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY

In April 2013, the Senate rejected bipartisan legislation for gun-purchase background checks. It didn’t seem possible: The shooting massacre at a Sandy Hook, Conn., elementary school had happened just months before; 90 percent of Americans supported background checks — and one of them was President Barack Obama.

But reports said the National Rifle Association spent half a million dollars — just on the day of the vote — lobbying against the legislation. That was the day hope for gun regulation died; my faith in the American political system plunged.

Six years and more than 1,600 mass shootings after Sandy Hook, another horrible attack might finally lead to change. After 17 people were killed at a Parkland, Fla., high school, teen survivors poured out their hearts on social media, then sparked a full-fledged student movement animated by fear, anger and awakening. I yearned for a bit of hope, but something left me unsettled, too.

Although I was too young to experience the upheaval of the 1960s, the struggles of that era have been with me since I was a teenager, old enough to be angry at what I thought was wrong with America in the 1980s. I was angry at modern racial injustice, and I got angrier as I understood how deep its historic roots ran in the United States. I was angry about consumer capitalism driving relentless cycles of poverty, which in turn fed racial injustice, violence and racism.

In a teenage way, I resented having been born on the privileged side, because I didn’t know how not to be complicit. And I was angry at myself for despising the system but unable to change or avoid participating in it.

Something about American kids marching for gun regulation seemed sad.

Learning about the social movements of the 1960s was a revelation. An awkward teenager (think braces, glasses and Ronald Reagan), I suddenly knew where I belonged: with those activists who threw their lives at the same problems I cared about. I glamorized the civil rights and anti-war movements.

In the 1980s, I couldn’t figure out how to fight the amorphous “system” at home. In high school, we protested South Africa’s apartheid. I became fascinated by Israel and eventually moved there, intending to commit my life to insisting that my people end the occupation and oppression of Palestinians.

When the Days of Rage were over, many questioned if the movements had failed. But here was one success: The ’60s gave voice to the values I cherish to this day — advancing equality and civic enfranchisement; dissent and activism against one’s own society when needed; and the most noble one of all, solidarity. The idea of white and Black Americans teaming to tear down racist structures moved me then and now. The photos of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching with Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. still make my throat tighten. When Israeli-Arab political leader Ayman Odeh marched with Ethiopian Israeli Jews in 2015, the tears welled up as if on cue.

But something about American kids marching for gun regulation seemed sad. Instead of fighting to advance equality so desperately elusive in America, they are fighting to stay alive in school. America’s bar of social norms is set so low that the best minds of our generation are devoted to the primal goal of survival rather than the higher vision of solidarity for those less fortunate.

By now thoroughly depressed, I was relieved when friends reminded me that reality is more complex. New social movements such as Black Lives Matter and the Women’s March represent demands for deeper social change, not only (although including) physical survival, and their activists and supporters are diverse. One friend cautioned against romanticizing the ’60s, because many anti-war protesters feared being drafted. “There’s no interest like self-interest!” he wrote.

But maybe there’s a deeper and more optimistic interpretation of today’s student outcry. In the great American balancing act between state power and individual rights, the Second Amendment has come to symbolize the primacy (and defiance) of the individual. These young people seem prepared to take on the deeper equation. Perhaps they see virtue, or even beauty, in a small sacrifice of personal freedoms or preferences to protect the common good. That’s called solidarity.


Dahlia Scheindlin is a writer at +972 magazine and a policy fellow at Mitvim — The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies. She lives in Israel.

Poem for Parkland: I Can’t Feel My Head

Valentine’s Day at MSD
I go through my classes as my daily routine
The fire alarm is pulled twice today
An announcement is made to evacuate

I approach the bottom of the stairs
I see kids running as confusion tears
I make a U turn and head to the room
When gun shots erupt our school faces doom

Still without knowing if it’s just a drill
Hiding in the closet as our nerves fill
I receive a text from my mom “are you okay?”
That’s the moment I knew this isn’t a normal birthday

Yes, indeed I turned fifteen this day
Goodbye is something to my classmates I never got to say
I lost too many friends thanks to Nikolas Cruz
Until gun policy changes how many more do I have to lose?

I sat in a closet scared and confused
As our second amendment rights were being abused
No one needs an AR-15
Unless it is to kill and injure over seventeen

Seventeen is far too many
As I turn on the news with my palms all sweaty
I see my friend is missing, Jaime Guttenberg
I frantically start typing a text to her.
I have some hope sending “ARE YOU OKAY???”
Less than one miute later my hope faded away
She has been confirmed dead
Emotions fill up as I can’t feel my head

Thanks to lack of help for a clear mental illness and an AR-15
When I go back to class Jaime will not be seen
I saw her the morning of the shooting
Not knowing this friend I would be losing

In order to cope I got a new puppy
A maltipoo less than two pounds and fluffy
We gave her a name as a tribute to MSD
She cheers everyone up welcome to the family, Misty


Samantha Deitsch is a student at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. This poem was shared on social media and has gone viral on Twitter.

The Parkland Dilemma

A memorial seen outside of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School as students arrive for the first time since the mass shooting in Parkland, Florida, U.S., February 28, 2018. REUTERS/Mary Beth Koeth

I bought my first gun when I was 28 years old. I grew up in a home without guns; I never even fired a gun until I was in law school. Like a lot of people raised in Los Angeles, I had a knee-jerk aversion to firearms. Although in principle I supported the founding argument for the Second Amendment — I believe that an armed population acts as a final check on the possibility of a tyrannical government — I never felt the necessity to get a gun for home defense.

All that changed in 2013 — ironically, after a debate about gun control. That January, I appeared on CNN with Piers Morgan, who had spent the previous few weeks decrying the prevalence of firearms ownership in the United States, in response to the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. Most of all, Morgan had relied on shallow emotional appeal: He had suggested, wrongly, that those who disagreed with his gun control proposals were hard-hearted regarding the deaths of the children.

During my interview with Morgan, I said he was acting like a bully — that he was standing on the graves of the children of Sandy Hook to push his political agenda. I pointed out that everyone on both sides of the aisle cares about the murder of innocent children, even if we disagree about the best ways to prevent such murders.

Within hours, I began to receive threatening messages. One such message noted my home address. I had a security system installed, and I purchased a Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun, on the advice of a police officer.

During the most recent election cycle, I again received a bevy of death threats — this time thanks to my opposition to President Donald Trump’s candidacy. I received approximately 40 percent of all anti-Semitic tweets directed at Jewish journalists during the election cycle. I received threatening letters and death threats by phone. And so I purchased a Smith & Wesson 9mm handgun, again on the advice of a police officer. I have often considered carrying it in violation of the law, though I have never done so; the old Second Amendment adage “better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6” began to hit home during those difficult days.

Now, for owning two weapons for self-defense, I’m being labeled immoral again. All gun-owners are, collectively. How else are we to read the comments of Parkland, Fla., student Cameron Kasky, from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who told Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) that thanks to his support for gun rights, Rubio resembled the Parkland shooter? How else are we to listen to the comments of Parkland student David Hogg, who said that National Rifle Association spokeswoman Dana Loesch “doesn’t care about these children’s lives”? I know Dana. We’re friends. She has two children, and she cares deeply about their safety. If she were local, there’s no one else I’d call first if my family were in danger and I needed help.

We’re all Americans. And we all care about the slaughter of children.

We’re all Americans. And we all care about the slaughter of children. That’s why I’ve called for the revision of federal law to allow gun violence restraining orders, a way for family members and friends of dangerously mentally ill people to apply to courts to restrict Second Amendment rights. That’s why my media outlet, The Daily Wire, has stopped naming and showing the faces of mass shooters, in an attempt to curb the publicity that often spawns such shootings. That’s why I’ve suggested a dramatic hardening of school security around the country: I went to YULA Boys High School, where security is top-notch — and I was there when the West Valley Jewish Community Center mass shooter drove right past our school, saw the security there, and kept driving. All children should feel just as safe as I did in high school.

Yes, we all care. And what’s more, I’m not going to give up my guns just because gun control advocates browbeat me. The Parkland students were failed by the FBI, which was warned twice about the shooter but did nothing. They were failed by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which received literally dozens of warnings but did nothing — and then they were failed again when armed deputies refused to storm the building.

The last line of defense isn’t the government. It’s me and my weapon. I’m keeping that weapon, and standing for Second Amendment rights, specifically because I care about my children. I assume those who disagree with me care about my kids, too. But there’s no way we’ll ever be able to find rational solutions if we shout at one another that our disagreements are evidence of our malice toward innocent children.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Proposed Gun Control Doesn’t Go Far Enough

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Joseph Sanberg, founder CalEITC4Me

In the wake of another horrific mass shooting, many gun control advocates seem to have accepted defeat before the debate even begins.

It’s hard to blame them. Every time, the NRA wins by treating any attempt at tightening gun control — no matter how feeble and innocuous — as an all-out assault on liberty, and gun control advocates play right into their hands by asking for less and less each time. We propose gun control measures so mild, so reasonable, that surely no one could possibly object to them (remember the bill to ban bump stocks after Las Vegas?). And yet each time, the NRA and their allies do object.

We have to stop debating on their terms. I’m tired of asking for the bare minimum of “common sense” measures and coming away empty handed. I’m tired of hearing that “gun control doesn’t work” from the same people who ensure that it never gets the chance.

We need to dramatically reduce the number of guns in this country, and we need to make it much harder to buy them. We have to start challenging the false notion that the Second Amendment gives any American citizen the right to unlimited firepower, no questions asked.
In order to fix our toxic relationship with firearms, we need to normalize the notion that not everyone has the right to own lethal weapons.

Gun Control: The Most Dangerous Conversation

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Rabbi Amy Bernstein, Kehillat Israel

It is completely incomprehensible to me that the current culture in this country makes even a conversation about a conversation regarding gun safety impossible. How is it not, at this point, a moral and ethical imperative for us to begin that conversation?

We American Jews have been leaders in both conversation and pressure for legislation around issues we believe to be central to the preservation and quality of human life. What is it that makes the conversation about policies related to gun safety forbidden? When and why did we decide to abdicate responsibility for addressing the number of assault weapons in circulation (some of which were illegal until the lapse of the Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004) and the ease of acquiring them?

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel called demonstrating for change in legislation in this country “praying with his feet.” Why aren’t we demanding legislative change now?

To quote Hillel, for the sake of all we hold precious, all entrusted to our care, “im lo achshav ematai — if not now, when?!”

Forget Pie-in-the-Sky. Try Real-World Proposals

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Ben Shapiro, author and editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire

The Parkland, Fla., mass shooting breaks the heart of any decent person. The morning after the shooting, as I got my daughter ready for school, she gave me a hug — and all I could think about was the fact that more than a dozen sets of parents will never be able to do that again for their children.

And yet in the aftermath of the shooting, the conversation has again devolved into accusations of callousness. Gun control advocates insisted that gun control opponents are uncaring monsters who simply don’t care when children are shot to death; they suggest that the members of the NRA, law-abiding citizens, are somehow responsible when an evil criminal massacres classmates. Meanwhile, gun control opponents on the right, reacting to the emotional blowback they’ve received from the left, turtle into intransigence.

None of this is helpful.

Here’s what would be helpful: some actual, real-world proposals with evidence to support them. Not pie-in-the-sky proposals like the revocation of the Second Amendment or full-scale gun confiscation — those aren’t going to happen. Realistic ways to prevent violence like this again. We should start with school security — if it’s good enough for your kid attending Jewish day school in Los Angeles, it should be available to kids attending public schools. We should move on to mental health checks — gun violence restraining orders, which allow relatives of those who are a danger to themselves and others to apply to courts to temporarily prevent threatening people from obtaining guns. We should discuss the lack of transparency in law enforcement — the FBI was given two specific warnings about the shooter in Parkland, and did nothing; in California, tens of thousands of people banned from owning guns have access to them. We should talk about media coverage — we at The Daily Wire already have decided not to run the photos or names of mass shooters in the future, so as not to provide them the attention they seek.

But it all starts with recognizing that we want the same thing: to stop the murder of innocent children. Any conversation that begins with the assumption that your political opponent doesn’t care about dead kids isn’t a conversation — it’s a counterproductive tactic designed to quash serious proposals in favor of posturing.

Don’t Punish Law-Abiding Citizens

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Elan S. Carr, criminal prosecutor, military officer and Iraq War veteran

Like many public policy debates in our country today, the two sides of the gun control divide often delegitimize each other’s views. Now, in the wake of another mass murder of innocent children, we must come together to protect our communities while also protecting Americans’ right to bear arms.

As a law enforcement and military officer, I know something about guns. I have carried them, shot them and prosecuted many criminals for possessing them. Last month, I prosecuted a gang member for putting a gun to a student’s head during a robbery and threatening to murder him. In two weeks, I am scheduled to begin a capital murder trial in which the defendants are accused of executing a store clerk. In neither case did those defendants obtain their firearms legally; in fact, as convicted felons they were unable to purchase guns. Americans agree that we must keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill.

But laws that take away guns from law-abiding citizens would not have prevented these crimes.

If we seek and embrace our common ground, we can create policies that advance public safety while respecting lawful gun ownership. If we focus on our divisions, we shall do neither.  America’s children deserve better.

What If Government Can’t Solve This Problem?

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, B’nai David Judea

I am not a policy expert. Intuitively though, the correlation between the enormous number of guns (and their deadly capacities) that Americans own and the frequency of deadly mass shootings is just too powerful to not also be substantially causal.

What we learned from the governmental inaction after the 2012 school shooting in Sandy Hook, Conn., though, is that the American political system — as wonderful as it is in many other ways — simply doesn’t possess the necessary disposition or capacity to decide to more closely regulate gun ownership.

We cannot expect our government to solve this problem. The answer is neither in politics nor in legislation.

Rather, this task is in the hands of ordinary human beings. Daily, sometimes even hourly, our lives present us with choices. Situations continuously arise in which we can choose the paths either of confrontation or of constructive engagement, of litigation or of compromise, of opposition or of relationship.

Our choices create either a culture of combat, or a culture of peace-seeking. Either a culture in which we can — and routinely do — dehumanize one another, or one in which we are intuitively, profoundly and constantly aware of the humanity of the people around us.

Nothing and no one will stop a deranged, violent person who has already decided to commit mass murder from doing so. But a culture in which we daily, hourly cultivate the ways of love and of peace, may cut off murderous rages before they can begin.

What the Second Amendment Does Not Guarantee

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

David N. Myers, Sady and Ludwig Kahn Professor of Jewish History at UCLA

Benjamin Franklin once defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

In surveying the carnage from the mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., it is hard to resist the view that the repetition of this drama reflects a twisted and self-defeating distortion. The Second Amendment to the Constitution, addressing the Revolutionary War-era presence of a “well regulated Militia,” states that “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” It does not state that Americans possess the inalienable right to own any and all firearms, including those capable of inflicting the massive loss of life that was perpetrated in Florida last week. At what cost to our collective well-being — to the lives of our precious kids — will we perpetuate this madness?

There is an alternative path. We can learn from others. Another society with a robust “live and let live” attitude stepped back from the brink and imposed restrictions on unrestrained gun ownership. In 1996, two weeks after a mass shooting that killed 35 people in Tasmania, the conservative Australian prime minister introduced the National Firearms Agreement, which imposed tight control on automatic and semi-automatic weapons, insisted on a waiting period before purchase, and prompted a national buy-back that collected 700,000 weapons. Since that time, there have been no mass shootings in Australia.

Is it not time for Americans to learn from this example? Should we not recall the Mishnaic principle that destroying a single life — especially of a child — is to destroy the whole world?

From Indignation to Transformation

Community members console one another at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School four days after the shooting, in Parkland, Florida, U.S. February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

Rabbi Sharon Brous, IKAR, senior fellow at Auburn Seminary

I’m indignant for the parents who spent hours Wednesday afternoon waiting on a street corner to see if their kids were among the living or the dead, and for those right now nervously pacing hospital corridors. I’m angry that across the country, students are afraid to go to school because they know that sometimes — just about three times a week in the United States — a guy walks into a classroom with a gun, the school goes into lockdown, and not everyone makes it out alive.

I’m indignant witnessing the soul-decay of our nation. Our nation, the most powerful in the world, which teaches its citizens that we are completely powerless to act against the man-made disasters that are destroying us. Our nation, in which we’re again forced to sit through the predictable parade of politicians with A+ ratings from the NRA offering condolences and laying blame anywhere but on the AR-15 and magazine clips used to murder those kids and their teachers.

How can we not be outraged? Another young man with white supremacist leanings and a history of mental illness who reportedly abused his girlfriend and posted pictures of himself with firearms on social media was able to legally purchase deadly weapons. I’m angry that lawmakers are using this tragedy as another opportunity to stigmatize those who struggle with mental illness, while both cutting funding for their care and making it easier for them to purchase guns. I’m angry that this week we had to add another American town to our national map of shame, piled high with stuffed animals and flowers and broken hearts and homes.

I’m a rabbi, in the hope and love business, and here I am, full of fury. But today I’m not afraid of indignation. Anger can disease the soul, or it can liberate it. Anger that’s driven by hope and love can be a tool of transformation. Let us use our anger now to end this insanity.

News Flash: Guns Kill

A protester weeps while chanting at a rally calling for more gun control three days after the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, U.S., February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Drake

In the days following the Florida school shooting, all of the usual “guns are as American as apple pie” defenses came out as though they had been saved from the last mass shooting and the one before that. Key to the apple pie defense: “If we all had guns, there would be no gun violence.”

It’s interesting that this theory gets so much play given that it goes against everything we know about human nature. But it’s also based on a false assumption. Guns have never been as American as apple pie. Whether or not you believe the Second Amendment was purposefully misinterpreted (and I believe it was), huge swaths of the country have always found guns odious.

Even now, when the prevalence of guns in the U.S. is beyond belief — 300 million, nearly one for every citizen — more than half are concentrated in the hands of just 3 percent of Americans, who own an average of 17 guns each. About 70 percent of Americans do not own a gun. The percentage of gun owners has actually been declining relative to population growth and is at an almost 40-year low. Least surprising of all, the less education you have, the more likely you are to own a gun.

The latter was clear when I started posting about guns on Facebook after the Florida shooting. I think I finally found the issue that decisively separates classical liberals/conservatives from what I can only call the totalitarian right.

The totalitarian right’s response to mass shootings is the mirror image of the totalitarian left’s response to terrorism: Find every excuse to do nothing. Feel morally superior about doing nothing. Pretend that it’s completely normal for a 19-year-old with a troubled past and emotional issues to legally buy an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

The one idea that the NRA and the far right have come up with is arming teachers. When I posted about the Colorado school district that is now allowing teachers to carry guns, there was much cheering from the “more guns” crowd. Until a teacher friend wrote: “You all forget that teachers are people, too, with a variety of temperaments. I work in a school and I for one would not feel safer if some of my colleagues had guns at work.” She then messaged me about teachers at her school who have been suspended for being violent with the students.

Arming teachers is a bad idea. Having an armed guard at every school is a much better one. Again, human nature needs to be considered.

For the sake of our kids, let’s tone down the anger and find sensible, bipartisan solutions.

Many on the totalitarian right can’t even engage in a civil discussion about the issue. Why should we trust them to own guns? In my 20s, I dated an anti-gun activist who the NRA loathed because he ran circles around them both morally and intellectually. One of the phrases he used has always stuck in my head: “The ready availability of guns.” The accidents, domestic violence and suicides that wouldn’t happen if guns weren’t so readily available.

Of course, I’m not talking about taking away guns. (I would love it, but it could never happen.) But, as Nicholas Kristof wrote in The New York Times, there is clearly much that can be done to prevent all levels of gun tragedies, from mental health checks and safe storage measures, to banning semi-automatics and sales to those under 21, to standardizing gun laws across states.

A key obstacle, Kristof writes, is our mindset. Why shouldn’t guns be given the same rational assessment as cars? Treated as a public health issue?

People on the totalitarian right act as though guns are the most intimate part of their body. When your political philosophy shows more care for a fetus (which I, too, believe is a life) than a child at school, you might want to revisit it.

Meanwhile, the left’s descent into identity politics has not helped. In New York City, so-called progressive groups are succeeding at removing metal detectors from high schools. Why? Because they consider them “racist.” That’s right. Racist metal detectors.

Raw emotions from both sides are distracting us from moving forward on this complex societal conundrum. For the sake of our kids, let’s tone down the anger and find sensible, bipartisan solutions that a majority of the country will get behind.

If not now, when?


Karen Lehrman Bloch is a cultural critic and author of “The Lipstick Proviso: Women, Sex & Power in the Real World” (Doubleday). Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The New Republic, The Wall Street Journal and Metropolis, among others.

In America, Life Should Come Before Total Liberty

Students from Western High School carrying placards, take part in a protest in support of the gun control, following a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Davie, Florida, U.S., February 21, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

“I get through every day by focusing totally on my work, to the point of distraction. And especially when milestones come up — Dylan’s birthday, 12/14; when school gets out, when school starts; seeing buses. I push all my emotion down and distract myself with work. I’ve been doing that for five years now, and it’s not healthy.”

Those are the words of Nicole Hockley, whose son Dylan was killed in 2012 in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., when he was 6 years old. He died in the arms of his special-education teacher, Anne Marie Murphy, who also was killed. Hockley spoke those words to two teens from Parkland, Fla., when they met last week in front of CBS cameras. Hockley’s face was etched with grief; the visible wound of endless emptiness, of persistent and permanent loss.

The reason we must tell and retell the stories of murdered children is because we must be reminded what is at stake in the gun control debate. It is not American liberty; it is American life. It is your child, your sibling, your teacher, your neighbor, your fellow citizen. And the lives at stake are not just the victims of gun violence — those who succumb to their wounds and never see another day — but the bereft survivors they leave behind.

We can argue endlessly about the means and measures necessary to protect and preserve American life, but we must at least start with a shared premise: Preservation of American life is paramount. This is the most fundamental expression of our decency and humanity as a society.

This shouldn’t be a radical idea. As Americans, we are promised much more. The Declaration of Independence states that we are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights, among them “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” But too many of us don’t appreciate what that means.

Almost 25 years ago, philosopher Isaiah Berlin delivered a prophetic commencement address at the University of Toronto, in which he distilled a lifetime of wisdom into “A Message to the 21st Century.” He began with the premise that, although human history has been riddled with violence and tragedy, the horrors of the 20th century carried out by Lenin, Stalin, Hitler, Mao and Pol Pot were “unparalleled.”

“Compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen.” — Isaiah Berlin

“They were not natural disasters,” Berlin said, “but preventable human crimes [and] they could have been averted.”

The calamities of history, Berlin said, are products of a belief in absolute ideals, even the noblest ones. Once a society commits entirely to any ideal — let’s say the Second Amendment or even democracy itself — it will do almost anything to preserve that ideal, even if it means resorting to coercion or violence. Everything is justified by the goal of attaining the ideal.

What Berlin understood is this: “The central values by which most men have lived are not always harmonious with each other. … Men have always craved for liberty, security, equality, happiness, justice, knowledge, and so on. But complete liberty is not compatible with complete equality — if men were wholly free, the wolves would be free to eat the sheep.”

Instead, Berlin counsels, we must compromise.

“Compromises, trade-offs, arrangements have to be made if the worst is not to happen. So much liberty for so much equality, so much individual self-expression for so much security, so much justice for so much compassion … [because] values clash.”

All Americans are entitled to liberty, but the preservation of the “total liberty” that the National Rifle Association preaches comes at the cost of others’ lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness. If we want to live in a decent society, individual liberties must sometimes be moderated to make room for additional cherished values — like the value of life itself.

Does Nicole Hockley have any less right to the pursuit of happiness than another American? The tragic reality is that the effort to preserve someone else’s total liberty denied Hockley her right to happiness and her son Dylan’s right to live.

TGIF

Three years, seven weeks, and five days after I was first told I had cancer, I am cancer free. I feel happy and relieved, but will forever feel nervous every time I don’t feel good, that it is cancer. That said, at the end of the day I am a rock star, and cancer is my bitch. My son came home to celebrate last night, and having him stay the night and sleep in his old room filled my heart with joy. Less than a month after cancer stole a dear friend, I feel blessed and am counting my blessings.

As I waited for test results, while marking the anniversary of the passing of my beloved dad who died from cancer, I thought about my life and my place in the world. I watched the painful news out of Florida and cried as I watched a mother beg for the government to keep our kids safe. It left me with a need to say a few things, about a few things. This may piss people off, and that is okay. God Bless America that I am able to not only have an opinion, but share it freely.

  • The murders in Florida this week must not be blamed on mental illness, but rather blamed on the fact that a teenager can legally buy an AR-15 firearm in America. The President of the United States is a moron and anyone who thinks prayer is the answer to this problem, is mentally deficient. I am a woman of faith and I believe in prayer, but I have had enough. The NRA can shove all the prayers up their asses and fire them into space. We need to get a hold of the guns and stop making senseless murders so easy.
  • Aziz Ansari is a pig, he is not however a sexual deviant who needs to lose his career, just because he was a loser on a date. Dear Lord. The woman “Grace”, who wrote about her date with Mr. Ansari did more harm than good to a movement that is trying so hard to do good. There is a witch hunt mentality happening, which I suppose is to be expected under the circumstances, but as women we have a responsibility to each other to be honest and fair so that appropriate action can be taken against those who deserve it.
  • I have written that the last two men I dated were lovely and it simply did not work out. Here’s the thing though, they were not lovely, I was lovely. They are assholes and I am tired of taking the high road when it comes to my dating life. I am far too nice, and the truth is that I was kind to both of these people, and they were dicks. At the end of the day I am a great girl who is worthy of a great man, and if you voted for Trump or are 53 and never married, you’ve got too many problems for me to take you on.
  • I cried when I read that Amy Schumer got married. I don’t know her, but I like her and respect how she uses the platform fame has given her, so I found myself inexplicably happy for her. She was a beautiful bride and I hope she has a loving and wonderful marriage. I’m not really the fangirl type, except for Celine Dion of course, but there is something about Ms. Schumer that puts me squarely on her side. She makes me laugh and has the gift of bringing light to darkness. Mazel Tov Amy. Thank you for you. #totalfangirl.
  • It turns out that I was correct when I shared with you all long ago that I am the only person who knows how to drive in Los Angeles. I was rear ended this week by a young man with no car insurance. He was texting on his phone and I saw him getting closer, but had nowhere to go so I just waited for the hit. We were not going fast and the damage was only cosmetic, but it pissed me off. I felt bad for the kid for about 30 seconds. He could have cared less about what he did and texted the entire time we were talking. Whatever.

I am very happy it is Friday. I am welcoming in Shabbat with an open heart and a tired mind. It has been a stressful, yet joyous week and I am going to have a couple Cosmos tonight. I know they will be delicious because I’m going to make them myself. I plan to order in Chinese food, put on my fluffiest pajamas, and enjoy the Olympics. I will undoubtedly go back and forth between the excitement of Korea and the news, struggling to make sense of things that will never make sense. I feel stuck. I am unsure what to think or feel when I am so happy, and so sad.

To the families in Florida who are experiencing unimaginable pain, you are on my mind and I send you love. May your loved ones rest in peace, and may you know I will join my voice to yours until somebody listens and gets the guns. I am sorry for your losses. Shabbat Shalom. Be safe out there everyone. We live in a scary place and the only way we will ever survive is if we start to take care of each other. Be kind to one another, use your vote for good, and scream as loud as you can that you want change. Be brave, be hopeful, and remember to keep the faith.

 

 

So, What The Hell Do We Do Now?

Joe Raedle / Staff / Getty Images

In the aftermath of another horrible and heartbreaking mass shooting at an American school, the same political game took place that always takes place. That game breaks down into three stages: before the facts come in, once the facts are in, and the actual political debate.

Before The Facts Come In. Before the facts come in, proponents of gun control point at foreign countries and the lack of mass shootings in those countries and suggest that Congress ought to do something — anything, really — to make it more difficult for evil people to obtain guns. They do not specify what that something is. But it must be a law, and it must restrict law-abiding citizens’ access to guns. Furthermore, any Congressperson who opposes such unspecified laws is the tool of the “gun industry.”

Meanwhile, those who oppose gun control urge caution until we know the facts; often they offer thoughts and prayers. Proponents of gun control then mock those thoughts and prayers in order to imply that gun control opponents don’t care about dead children, and merely want to avoid responsibility by throwing the problem at God.

The Facts Come In. As the facts come in, proponents of gun control maintain their staunch advocacy for their position, but are often forced to acknowledge that their preferred measures wouldn’t have done anything to stop the shootings at issue. That doesn’t stop them from clubbing about the ears gun control opponents, who maintain that gun control measures must be tailored toward stopping actual events.

Meanwhile, opponents of gun control usually suggest two measures: mental health screening that would take dangerous people off the streets and into treatment, and security in schools. These are rejected out of hand by gun control proponents, who say they don’t want those who are mentally ill avoiding treatment in order to avoid the consequences of such treatment, and add that placing security in schools would somehow “militarize” the school environment.

The Political Debate. Congress usually proposes some measure of gun control. That measure of gun control is usually far more unpopular in specifics than it was in theory; it usually restricts rights most Americans care about, and fails to properly target the underlying problem at issue. Such measures almost universally fail. When they do pass, they show little evidence of impact on mass shootings.

So, where does all of this leave us?

Here’s what we know. The shooter used an AR-15, the most common rifle in the United States. The shooter was on the radar of school authorities, and he was reportedly in frequent contact with the police; he was reported to the FBI as well, but follow-up was apparently insufficient. People warned authorities about him, and they didn’t do anything or couldn’t do anything. That’s probably the best place to start looking for answers.

The shooter’s gun was obtained legally. He had never been arrested; it’s difficult to think of a way to prevent the sale of a gun to a person with a clean record without a mass gun ban or confiscation. He also had a gas mask and grenades — and it’s unclear where he obtained the grenades. We could look at stronger prosecution of straw buyers, as Jim Geraghty of National Review suggests, but that wouldn’t have helped in this case.

So, where do we go from here? Obviously, I think that we ought to consider security in schools as a first step — I went to a Jewish high school in Los Angeles that received bomb threats at least twice a year; the building next door was scoped out by mass shooter Buford Furrow, but he left thanks to security there. It’s not too much to ask that we place armed security at our schools, as Israel does.

But this much is clear: snap Twitter excoriations focused on casting aspersions at the character of our political opposition tears our country apart right when we need to come together in comfort. We have an unfortunate tendency to roll our eyes when people say they’re waiting for the facts, whether we’re discussing mass shootings or terrorist attacks; I’ve done it, too. But waiting for facts is the responsible thing to do. And as the facts come in, perhaps better solutions will make themselves clearer.

This column was originally posted at The Daily Wire.


Ben Shapiro is a best-selling author, editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire and host of the podcast “The Ben Shapiro Show.”

Letters to the Editor: Jerusalem, Hanukkah, Gun Control and ‘Wonder’

FROM FACEBOOK:

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital

This article attributes wisdom to a president who does not deserve it. Donald Trump’s statements are not about what is good for Israel, or what is good for the peace process, or even what is good for the U.S. In some way, these statements serve only one purpose — Trump. It’s a shame so many Jews miss this critical point. And while we may clamor for the recognition of an empire, in the end, it doesn’t really matter.

Brian Lichtman

Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. We Israelis never doubted it. Even if someone argues that it was meant to be an international city, we know that Israel is the only country in the Middle East that can keep it as free and international while it’s also its capital.

Ora Cooper

The truth needs to be repeated that President Donald Trump’s speech contained much wisdom. He acknowledged the reality of Israel’s capital city being Jerusalem while stating that the final borders would be left up to negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians. That the Palestinians’ response was to declare multiple “days of rage” and their refusal of further meetings with U.S. representatives speaks volumes about their true desire for peace.

Bill Bender


How Jerusalem Decision May Impact Jews

David Suissa’s column “Can Jerusalem Be Good for All Religions?” (Dec. 15) was great! However, I believe this event creates an urgent need to ask a second (and more important) question: Can Judaism be good for most Jews? Obviously, to answer this question we must first define “Judaism” — so that most Jews (and especially, most young Jews and old rabbis) actually can agree about Judaism in 2018.

Aaron H. Shovers, Long Beach 

David Suissa’s Editor’s Note about Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is outstanding. I was so impressed that I took it with me today to read to my daughter while she drove me to the Veterans Affairs/West Los Angeles Medical Center. He is an excellent writer and a brilliant man. And I have noticed a distinct improvement in the type and quality of the articles now being published for our community.

Keep up the good work.

George Epstein via email


Fond Memories of Hanukkah on the Go

The Hanukkah story by Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky, “Stronger Together” (Dec. 8), is a heartwarming reminder that Jewish life and many of our holiday customs are both joyful and portable.

And they’re even better when we manage to share them with others, wherever and whenever possible.

I’ll add three of our Hanukkah travel tales: First, at California’s Yosemite National Park lodge when my children were young, the desk clerk allowed me to post my hand-drawn sign with an eight-branched menorah plus candles along with an open invitation for hotel guests to join us in our room to light and sing Hanukkah brachot/prayers together.

Among several couples and families who arrived, one couple turned out to be formerly unknown distant family relatives with roots in Western Europe, visiting from the American Midwest.

On another occasion, we managed to light Hanukkah candles at Los Angeles International Airport (not likely permitted today) while en route to Argentina to visit my wife’s family.

Another memorable time I lit a hanukkiah while traveling was while en route to Israel on a stopover at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport on an American Professors for Peace in the Middle East faculty group study mission (an important U.S. and Canada faculty Israel support group founded in 1967). The two-hour layover before boarding our El Al flight was enough to allow the minimum half-hour needed for the candles to burn, per Jewish custom and law.

With permission from nearby boarding gate staff, I set up a menorah and three candles on the counter to light them, readily visible in the area. Others approached and while singing the prayers, together we recalled the living yet ancient “ages-old victory and miracle” (nes gadol hayah sham) while awaiting our flight to depart.

Again, as airport travelers en route to Israel, we joined in prayerful melodies and lights in a public reminder and joyful Hanukkah celebration of the Maccabees’ victory and our enemies’ defeat with God’s help — to restore the Temple in Jerusalem and enabling us to honor Jewish values and practices, thanks to this wonderful and supportive country, the United States, in which we have the privilege to live!

Allan Levine via email 


Gun Laws and Gun Violence in the U.S.

I read Danielle Berrin’s column about the need for gun control in this country (“The Great Gun Debate,” Dec. 15). First of all, homicides have gone way down from a high of nearly 20,000 over 10 years ago to around 12,000 to 14,000 thousand now. Of course, mass murders have increased, though.

The city of Chicago had very weak gun control laws years ago and had about 250 homicides a year. Now, with among with the strictest gun control laws in this country, the city has recorded more than 600 homicides this  year.

Gun control has never been effective in reducing homicides in this country and never will. Homicides may go up or down regardless of stricter gun control laws.

Lynda Wadkins, North Hollywood


Did Columnist See the Same Movie as Letter Writer?

How in the world could one possibly see the movie “Wonder” as “one big smack in the face at President Donald Trump and his politics of hate”? (“ ‘Wonder’: A Call to Our Better Angels,” Dec. 1.)

You not only printed a piece contending that protecting America is hatred personified, you made sure the whole point of Karen Lehrman Bloch’s column was mainly about that.

You’ve bought (and are now selling) the craziness of MSNBC journalist Rachel Maddow, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, comedian Kathy Griffin and the rest of the people who claim that all of the Trump supporters are a “basket of deplorables.”

Hasn’t that gotten a little old by now?

Steve Klein, Encino


Letter About Rohingya Was Misinterpreted

I am saddened by Usman Madha’s letter (“Muslim Wants to Dispel Distortions About Rohingya,” Dec. 15) misinterpreting the facts contained in my original letter regarding the Buddhist-Muslim strife in Myannmar (“Plight of the Rohingya Has Many Facets,” Dec. 8). I was clear in expressing sympathy for the innocent Rohingya at the outset of my letter, which focused primarily on the years of jihadist wars that have left indelible scars on the people of the Indian subcontinent.

This reality sheds light on the reactive behavior of Myanmar’s Buddhists to the Muslim Rohingya today. Madha admits he is well aware of the Jihadist problem in Islam when he proclaims he is a “practicing pluralist, non-jihadist Muslim.” Moreover, my letter did not focus on Jewish-Muslim relations but rather on Islamic-Buddhist relations, which lie at the heart of the Myanmar dispute.

I am a fan of moderate Muslim thinkers such as Zuhdi Jasser, who has called for a reform of Islam’s jihadist roots in a post-9/11 world. The recent rapprochement of Saudi Arabia and the moderate Arab countries with Israel, as well as the tone of Madha’s welcoming letter, give me hope for a better future.

Richard Friedman, Culver City

The Great Gun Debate

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

It’s been almost a year since I drove to the Los Angeles Gun Club and shot a gun for the first time. I remember how I trembled at the awesome power of the little weapon I could hold with one hand: What if I made a mistake? What if the gun backfired? What if the person next to me was careless?

It was my first time near a gun, and I was terrified.

Although the only real risk that day was posed to paper targets, it made me aware of how vulnerable human bodies are to bullets. Because accidents happen. In fact, “unintentional gun deaths” is a statistical category of its own, which accounts for hundreds of deaths in the United States each year. But who wants to talk about that?

Independent of a major mass-shooting catastrophe, gun violence is a neglected topic. For some bizarre reason, it requires a dreadful calamity in which scores of people are bloodied and murdered for the news cycle to pick up on gun violence and for American citizens to vent outrage and demand change.

But indeed we do, each time it happens, for about a week — longer, if children are involved. Then, absent the enduring trauma of surviving a shooting incident or the eternal tragedy of losing someone we love, we simply forget and move on.

We were lucky, weren’t we? We dodged a bullet.

Way too many Americans die needlessly each year from gun violence and not enough of us care.

Since that dark night on Oct. 1 when a deranged gunman opened fire on a crowd of concertgoers on the Las Vegas strip, killing 58 other people and injuring hundreds more, there have been an additional 55 mass shootings in the U.S.

I’m not talking homicides — I’m talking mass shootings, which, according to the FBI, is when four or more people are shot and/or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter. You want homicide stats? On average, about 30,000 people die every year from gun violence. Something like 12,000 of those deaths are “conventional” homicides, where one person shoots and kills another, but the majority are suicides.

The statistics are dizzying. And the bottom line is this: Way too many Americans die needlessly each year from gun violence and not enough of us care. Instead of marshaling the will to pressure our elected officials every single day until sensible gun control laws are passed, we surrender to a stupor of cynicism and apathy.

“Looking back, I’m embarrassed about the fact that I didn’t pay a lot of attention to the issue of gun violence until Sandy Hook,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said during an interview last week about the shooting in his home state five years ago that claimed the lives of 20 children.

On Dec. 17, Murphy will join Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer at Temple Emanuel for a discussion on gun violence sponsored by the literary salon Writers Bloc.

Feuer also had an “aha moment” regarding guns.

“I was on City Council in the 1990s when there was a bank robbery in North Hollywood where the police were outgunned by the robbers,” Feuer told me.

That was a Dayenu moment, as well, alerting Feuer to the ease with which criminals could access guns. “Then, the North Valley JCC shooting happened.” That was 1999. Dayenu. Again.

Feuer has spent the better part of his career advocating for tougher gun laws in California, helping to write legislation requiring background checks, banning high-capacity magazines and requiring gun microstamping to help law enforcement identify gun purchasers.

“This is becoming a more and more important issue for voters every single day … but it’s going to take the modern anti-violence movement a long time to become as powerful as the gun lobby,” Murphy said.

The Nation Rifle Association has ensured that there is no issue more intractable in current American politics than gun control. Despite the fact that 90 percent of Americans support universal background checks, the NRA’s relentless fearmongering about infringement on Second Amendment rights and concomitant personal liberties handicaps lawmakers.

Some argue that the specifics of potential gun legislation wouldn’t do enough to curb gun violence since there already are hundreds of millions of weapons on the streets of America. Banning assault rifles or high-capacity magazines would have a negligible effect on total gun homicides — saving hundreds of people per year, not thousands.

But that’s hundreds of people! We can throw around all kinds of numbers and statistics, but in Judaism, all we need is one: If you save a single life, you save the world.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Letters to the Editor: Gun rights debate, keeping politics out of temple, Radical Middle and David Suissa

Gun Rights Debate Continues

First of all, congratulations to the Journal for debating an issue that the Supreme court handed down a decision on almost 10 years ago (“Does the Second Amendment Guarantee the Right to Bear Arms?” Oct. 13).

Second, my admiration to Karen Kaskey for her very well-done arguments. In contrast: The best part of Ben Shapiro’s arguments is the headline: “Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality.” His analysis of the facts, though, is superficial and he fails to see the reality that modern society is not the same as it was 200 years ago. Everything in the universe, including American society, is subject to change. He doesn’t understand that the purpose of the constitution of any country is to serve its people and should be subject to change, as well.

As far as the Supreme Court decision on the issue: Yes, the court has the legal authority to clarify the meaning of any part of the Constitution, but that doesn’t mean justices can read the minds of those who wrote it. Nobody can.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles

Regarding Ben Shapiro’s column on the Las Vegas shooting (“Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality,” Oct. 13):

• Congress and the states have the legal authority to ban assault weapons.

• Polls show a majority of Americans want assault weapons to be illegal.

• Shapiro doesn’t even deal with the issue of assault weapons in his column. Instead, he changes the subject to a supposed effort to take away all guns from all citizens, which is untrue and irrelevant to the massacre in Las Vegas.

• Shapiro makes the lame conservative argument that because it’s impossible to stop all shootings, there’s no point in even trying. That makes as much sense as saying that I won’t lock the doors, windows and gates of my house because I can’t stop all burglaries.

• Conservatives love to say that the left can’t see evil when it’s staring them in the face and won’t act against it when they can. The real evil here is that conservatives are just fine with mass shootings, won’t do anything about them because they’re on the payroll of the gun industry, and callously thwart the desire of all Americans to feel safe from the threat of assault weapons.

Michael Asher via email


Leave Politics Out of the Temple

I was in shock when I read “Political Pundits Discuss ‘Trump’s America’ in Debate at Valley Beth Shalom,” (Oct. 13). First, this should never have been organized at this temple. I believe that there are tax consequences, aside from being very distasteful. Peter Beinart and David Frum are looney Jews talking trash about Trump.

Any normal person would be absolutely fed up with this constant line of crap! Trump is a racist, Trump is anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and on and on. I wouldn’t be surprised if Valley Beth Shalom is losing membership. I know that other “liberal” temples are. Keep houses of worship just for spiritual purposes and leave politics at home!

Alexandra Joans, Los Angeles

Please add my name to those who feel the same as the “heckler” at Temple Israel of Hollywood (“Heckler Interrupts Kol Nidre Sermon,” Oct. 6).

Your “senior writer” seems to have given a new definition to the term heckler. Not long ago, “heckler” would conjure up a picture of someone sitting at length in an audience, making it rough on some budding entertainer.

Your reporter indicated none of that. The man got fed up with the narrishkayt and stated, “This is supposed to be a house of prayer.”

According to your reporter, he was not the only one disturbed by Rabbi John Rosove’s flights into “liberal political rhetoric.” Others voiced their displeasure that our synagogues were being turned into houses of rebellion against the government. He stated his protest — and left. “Stormed”? Tsk, tsk.

My wife and I “stormed” out of Temple Beth Hillel this past High Holy Days, demanding (and receiving) our money back, after the rabbi made sure that the congregation was apprised that Israel is an occupier, that it is non-egalitarian toward women who just want to pray at the Western Wall, that we should be magnanimous enough to welcome all in need to share our boundless country and, oh, yes, that the Reform movement has asked all Reform synagogues to “rise up against this [illegitimate] government.”

As your reporter quoted another irate citizen not afraid to buck the rising liberal nonsense, “We don’t need to listen to this bull—-!”

P.S. Apparently, neither do the fine people of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, who pulled out of the movement for the same reason.

Steve Klein via email

Obviously, there were people attending the Kol Nidre service at Temple Israel of Hollywood who strongly felt that denouncing our president during the rabbi’s sermon was not appropriate — so much so that they walked out; and one man even spoke out in opposition as he stormed out of the sanctuary.

I agree with Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple about keeping politics out of the synagogue. It is not intended to be a place for expressing political differences.

According to Wikipedia, “politics is the process and method of gaining or maintaining support for public or common action, the conduct of decision-making for groups.” It serves to sway people’s allegiance.

On the other hand, a temple is “an edifice or place dedicated to the service or worship of a deity.”

Whether or not you like our president (I voted against him), the temple is a place for religious worship — certainly not intended for political denunciation of our president.

George Epstein, Los Angeles


Both Parties Leave  the ‘Middle’ Behind

Karen Lehrman Block is completely right, but rather late (“Toward a Radical Middle,” Oct. 6). The “middle” (to which I belong, as well) was written out of the Democratic and Republican parties years ago, and I see no sign of it being able to return because its politicians have morphed into the “establishment” and are functioning only to their own benefit. That’s what Donald Trump ran against and that’s why he was elected.

Your first redesigned issue was excellent.

Stephen J. Meyers via email


Progressives Should  Reconsider Their Ethics

In “Dancing With Darkness” (Oct. 13), David Suissa extols the personal freedom we enjoy in the United States, although it tragically enabled the Las Vegas massacre. American freedom has a particular resonance with Jews because it’s inspired by the Ten Commandments, which assert that true freedom requires moral behavior. The Founding Fathers were so profoundly aware of their Hebrew roots that the Liberty Bell’s sole inscription is from Leviticus; Ben Franklin’s original idea for the Great Seal of the United States was a depiction of the Israelites crossing the Red Sea; and George Washington personally assured the fledgling Jewish community that its members were free and equal citizens.

Despite this history, progressives have for years condemned Christianity and Judaism, the latter by demonizing Zionism. Since turning their backs on Judeo-Christian ethics, progressives have become meaner and less tolerant, like the crowds who cheered Madonna when she mused about “blowing up the White House,” and Linda Sarsour when she praised a convicted terrorist murderer.

After the Las Vegas massacre, a young, Jewish CBS vice president declared she was unsympathetic to the victims because “country music fans often are Republican.” Progressive indoctrination, such as Hillary Clinton calling candidate Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables,” robbed this woman of her conscience and empathy.

Hopefully, the Harvey Weinstein scandal will lead progressives to reconsider their values, or we may well forfeit the freedom our ancestors died for.

Rueben Gordon, Calabasas


Good Luck, David Suissa

Congratulations to David Suissa on his new role as editor-in-chief of the Journal. The most recent Journal already shows that there is a changing of the guard and a new leadership reflecting a new light shining on different aspects of Jewish life, Israel and the world.

I have been a longtime reader of the Journal and I want to wish you much success in your new position. Go from strength to strength.

Best wishes.

Leila Bronner, Los Angeles

Carrying a Cynical Heart Won’t Stop Gun Violence

Rifles are displayed for sale at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

This year, I was especially looking forward to Yom Kippur. September had been exceptionally busy, and the downtime was a welcome change of pace. Between the fast and the time spent in temple, Yom Kippur worked as intended — I had some rare time for authentic self-reflection. 

As the director of a small but dynamic gun violence prevention organization in Washington, D.C., I spend my days developing lifesaving policies and fighting the gun lobby. I am constantly dealing with tragedy and its aftermath — constantly meeting survivors of gun violence, working with those who have been affected, consoling families changed forever. Sometimes, that constant exposure to tragedy makes me create a wall that separates my work from my human emotions. 

I don’t intentionally create that wall. The separation happens subtly over time. It enables me to keep working in times of high anxiety, but it also can breed acceptance of the status quo and, even worse, cynicism. Cynicism is the brain telling the heart not to get too hopeful because nothing is going to change. Cynicism can be self-protective, but it thwarts effective advocacy. 

This Yom Kippur, I vowed that in the new year I would bring down the wall. I vowed that I would not allow the serious nature of my work to blunt my emotions or muddy my dream: a world free from gun violence. I would not give in to cynicism.    

Little did I know that my plans for the new year would be tested immediately.

We awoke the morning of Oct. 2 — shortly after Yom Kippur — to horrific news out of Las Vegas. As the day unfolded and the extent of the carnage became clear, emotions came in waves: grief, anger and, yes, cynicism. How could this happen again and at such a scale? Will we ever learn from our mistakes? Is there really hope for change? 

As I felt the wall start to go up, I stumbled across a blog post written a couple of days before Yom Kippur by Rabbi Naomi Levy, the spiritual leader of Nashuva in Los Angeles. She wrote about the inability to connect with her emotions after her father was shot and killed when she was a young girl. She said that the most important theme of Yom Kippur comes down to this line in Ezekiel: “I will remove your heart of stone and I will give you a heart of flesh.” 

She goes on to write, “Cutting through the heart of stone and arriving at the heart of flesh isn’t a one-time job. The stone heart isn’t gone forever. At every loss, at every disappointment, at every new challenge, it’s there ready to return, ready to take its familiar place inside you. And it takes so much courage to stay alive and soft and vulnerable.”   

As we face the challenges presented by Las Vegas and the terrible toll of gun violence in America, it is imperative that we cut through our hearts of stone and tear down our protective walls. It is imperative that we stay open, vulnerable and confident in our ability to make a difference. We must allow ourselves to feel the urgent pain of gun violence, the human cost, the true toll. And we must use those powerful emotions to summon courage, optimism and commitment. 

Here is what gives me optimism in this dark hour:

First, research shows that comprehensive approaches to gun violence prevention work. Permit-to-purchase laws, prohibitions on domestic abusers possessing guns, and policies that remove guns from those in crisis — known as the Extreme Risk Protective Order (ERPO) — among others, have proven effective. We know what to do to save lives. 

Second, a majority of Americans support responsible approaches to gun violence prevention. Polls show strong bipartisan support for policies such as universal background checks and ERPO — even among gun owners. 

Finally, change already is happening. Individual states are leading the way in enacting innovative and effective gun violence prevention policies. After the terrible tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut in 2012, some states enacted new universal background-check provisions. Many states have enacted new provisions to further restrict the ability of domestic abusers to acquire guns. 

This list does not mean change is easy or inevitable. It means it is possible. And reminding ourselves that change is possible is the wall that can keep cynicism away. 


Joshua Horwitz is the executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

The Second Amendment Does Not Exist in a Vacuum

A piece of 3/4 inch (19mm) steel is shown with .50 caliber bullet holes displayed next to the rounds at the Guntoberfest gun show in Oaks, Pennsylvania, U.S., October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

The Second Amendment to the United States Constitution does not guarantee the right to own arms, unless you happen to be in a well-regulated militia. It would be reasonable and consistent with a strict construction of the Second Amendment to argue that since there are no such militias in 2017, the issue is moot.

Nonetheless, many Americans seem to believe that the Second Amendment guarantees everyone the right to own arms — in any number, of any type, anywhere and at any time. It would be patently absurd to view the amendment as a guarantee of that magnitude. Weapons that are created solely for the purpose of killing human beings have, at most, a very limited place in modern civil society. Do we or do we not want to protect American lives?

We often overlook the fact that the Constitution was written shortly after the American War of Independence, in which well-regulated militias fought for the security of the soon-to-be-born United States of America. Militiamen didn’t have access to the weapons of modern-day warfare. They were authorized to use their muskets and musket balls for military use to protect the security of their nation; i.e., the lives of Americans.

But if we must parse the amendment beyond literal reading, let’s remember that it wasn’t until 2008 that the law of our land expanded the right to own guns beyond militias, to the legal use of handguns for self-protection in the home. The landmark U.S. Supreme Court case, District of Columbia v. Heller, was a very controversial 5-4 decision with powerful dissents. It provides the broadest interpretation of the Second Amendment to date — and it provides absolutely no constitutional protection to automatic or semi-automatic weapons.

There is nothing in the Constitution nor in Supreme Curt jurisprudence that restricts the government from limiting the purchase or ownership of weapons capable of mass slaughter, such as assault weapons and the retrofitting of ostensibly legal weapons to empower them to fire automatically. Shouldn’t our government therefore be enacting policies and laws to limit ownership of such weapons?

In our recent history, assault weapons were banned by federal law, constitutionally, without violating the Second Amendment.  Unfortunately, the ban expired and was not renewed by Congress. But since it is clearly constitutional to prohibit the ownership of certain weapons used for the killing of others, we must acknowledge that said prohibition is lawful; it would not restrict the right to defend yourself in your home with a handgun or to hunt with a hunting rifle.

Have we forgotten the basic premises upon which our nation was conceived, built and exists today? Have we abdicated common sense at the expense of our lives?

The Second Amendment does not exist in a vacuum. Before there was a Constitution, there was a Declaration of Independence, without which the Constitution would have been irrelevant and unnecessary. Our government was created specifically to protect the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of our citizens.

To date, we have failed miserably in the mission our Founding Fathers entrusted to us. 

The Constitution declares in its preamble that its purpose is to ensure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare, among other things. Both terms refer to the protection of the lives of our citizens — in common parlance, public safety.  When we allow mass murders of Americans to occur day after day, under the guise of Second Amendment protection, we ignore the most fundamental mandate of the Constitution.

The public safety that America allegedly holds dear, and which our various levels of government purport to be their raison d’être, obviously requires policies and laws that prevent the mass murders of civilians.  And if we don’t believe in anarchy, this requires a prohibition on the ownership of military-style weapons, at the very least.

Simply put, the Second Amendment does not guarantee the right to own arms. It is much more nuanced than that. The current state of the law interprets the amendment to allow limited use of certain weapons, by qualified people, for specific purposes. Anything beyond what is protected may be and should be prohibited.

To date, we have failed miserably in the mission our Founding Fathers entrusted to us. We have not done our best to safeguard American lives. We know what has to be done. 


Karen Kaskey is a Pennsylvania attorney who volunteers at CeaseFirePA.

Good Gun Policy Starts With Reality

A selection of AK and AR rifles are seen for sale at the Pony Express Firearms shop in Parker, Colorado December 7, 2015. Many Americans are stocking up on weapons after the country's worst mass shooting in three years. Gun retailers are reporting surging sales, with customers saying they want to keep handguns and rifles at hand for self-defense in the event of another attack. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Whenever a mass shooting occurs, good-hearted people immediately begin looking for ways to prevent the next act of evil. That’s natural, and it’s worthwhile. What isn’t worthwhile is substituting emotional manipulation for evidence-based policymaking. And unfortunately, after the Las Vegas massacre, that’s precisely what’s been happening.

We’ve heard from Democratic politicians that those who don’t immediately leap to “do something” — anything, presumably — about guns are somehow cold-hearted. Jimmy Kimmel went so far as to suggest that those who don’t support his gun control agenda have blood on their hands.

But here’s the problem: Not a single gun law short of full-scale gun confiscation would have prevented Las Vegas or any of the other mass shootings we’ve seen. Furthermore, there is no correlation between states with high rates of gun ownership and states with high rates of gun homicide.

So, how do we make good gun policy?

Let’s begin with the facts: You have an individual Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. Any supposition that your rights to self-defense are relegated to your membership in a “well-regulated militia” are legally groundless and historically ignorant. That’s why the Supreme Court held in District of Columbia v. Heller (2008) that “the operative clause’s text and history demonstrate that it connotes an individual right to keep and bear arms.”

There’s a reason for the Founding Fathers’ logic here — and that reasoning is still relevant .

First, bad people are capable of getting arms in the U.S. That is a simple fact. According to epidemiologist Anthony Fabio of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Health, the vast majority of perpetrators in crimes involving guns in Pittsburgh — nearly 80 percent — obtained their guns illegally. And relying on the police to defend you is often impossible — the police can only respond to crimes, they can’t forestall them. That means that your last line of self-defense is your ability to use a weapon. Gun rights advocates state that guns are used millions of times a year to stop a crime — but even the Bureau of Justice Statistics says that guns are used in this way well over 67,000 times per year.

Second, the Founders feared the possibility of tyranny, and they supported state militias and individual gun ownership to prevent such tyrannies from arising. It makes perfect sense that the first gun control laws promulgated in the United States were pushed by the Ku Klux Klan, which was seeking to prevent Black gun ownership after the Civil War. As UCLA constitutional scholar Adam Winkler has written, “It was a constant pressure among white racists to keep guns out of the hands of African-Americans, because they would rise up and revolt. … The KKK began as a gun control organization.” There also is a reason that when it attained power, Hitler’s regime sought to remove guns from Jews. It’s somewhat ironic to hear those who think President Donald Trump is an incipient fascist insist they trust Trump to seize millions of firearms from law-abiding Americans.

With all of that said, there are limitations on the Second Amendment: Your right to keep and bear arms does not apply to nuclear weapons, for example. In determining the best policies, we must balance the need and right to firearms with public policy concerns, including the risk that a machine gun will be used in public.  That’s why federal machine gun sale has been illegal since 1986.

Not a single gun law short of full-scale gun confiscation would have prevented Las Vegas or any of the other mass shootings we’ve seen. 

So, what do we do about situations like Las Vegas? We begin with the premise that we’re all brothers and sisters who want to prevent evil acts. Then we move on to the evidence.

It’s well worth discussing the banning of “bump stocks” (devices added to semi-automatic rifles that allow them to simulate automatic rates of fire), for example. We also should look at ways of enforcing federal laws banning the sale of guns to the mentally ill, without violating the due process rights of those suspected of mental illness. But to suggest banning all guns would be unwise as well as immoral: How exactly do gun control proponents suggest disarming 100 million Americans of 300 million guns, when we’ve been told that we can’t even identify 11 million illegal immigrants? Such an effort would end in bloodshed, even if it were desirable — which, of course, it isn’t, since criminals don’t tend to pay much attention to laws. 


Ben Shapiro is editor-in-chief at The Daily Wire, host of the most listened to conservative podcast in the nation, “The Ben Shapiro Show,” and author of The New York Times best-seller “Bullies: How the Left’s Culture of Fear Silences Americans.”

Dancing With Darkness

FILE PHOTO: Jason Aldean performs at the 52nd Academy of Country Music Awards Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., February 4, 2017. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni/File Photo

Country music star Jason Aldean, performing at the outdoor Harvest Festival in Las Vegas on the night of Oct. 1, was just beginning a new song when bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Hotel began raining down on thousands of unsuspecting concertgoers.

After the killer was done, 58 people perished and nearly 500 were injured.

We still don’t know what motivated Stephen Paddock to commit this monstrous act, but we do know what enabled him to do it: Living in a free and open society.

Paddock was free to book two adjoining hotel rooms and bring along an arsenal of high-powered guns and rifles. The hotel’s personnel were not free to check his luggage, lest they violate his rights. Had a security official said to him, “Excuse me, sir, this luggage is unusually heavy, we have to check it,” he could have sued the hotel.

Paddock knew that America had given him a safe space to carry out his destruction. He knew he was living in a country where the right to be left alone is sacred. He had complete confidence that if he acted “normally,” he would be free to crack open his hotel window and start shooting.

We soon realized that the two stories were connected by a difficult question: How do we rejoice when darkness strikes? We are not robots. When tragedies consume our consciousness, how can we be expected to dance and celebrate? How does the Jewish tradition handle such dilemmas?

Paddock used his freedom to destroy the same freedom in others. Through the long lenses of his weapons, he must have seen the faces and bodies of those “others” exercising their freedom to be left alone, their freedom to enjoy a concert under the stars. With each pull of the trigger, he killed the freedom of movement that he himself cherished and gorged on.

“Some days it’s tough just gettin’ up” were the words Jason Aldean was singing when Paddock’s gunfire intruded. He kept singing for a bit (“Throwin’ on these boots and makin’ that climb / Some days I’d rather be a no-show lay-low ‘fore I go outta my mind”) before quickly running backstage.

Journalists can’t run backstage when mayhem happens. We do the opposite — we run toward the mayhem. We put our emotions aside and hunt for facts. To help our readers make sense of the senseless, we look for smart analyses and insightful commentary. We did all of that in preparing for this issue.

But we had a conflict: We had planned a beautiful cover story for this issue on the joyful holiday of Simchat Torah. What should we do with it? Our first instinct was to move it inside the paper and put the Vegas tragedy on the cover, as we usually do when disasters strike. In this case, however, I decided to call the writer of the Simchat Torah story, Rabbi Zoë Klein Miles, and discuss the issue with her.

We soon realized that the two stories were connected by a difficult question: How do we rejoice when darkness strikes? We are not robots. When tragedies consume our consciousness, how can we be expected to dance and celebrate? How does the Jewish tradition handle such dilemmas?

My friend Zoë seized the moment and decided to rework her piece. Hence the cover: “How do we rejoice at Simchat Torah during times of darkness?” It’s worth a read.

Three of our columnists — Danielle Berrin, Marty Kaplan and Monica Osborne — also weigh in on the difficult questions that have come out of Vegas. A Chabad rabbi living in Las Vegas writes about how he will dance at Simchat Torah despite the darkness. Reporter Kelly Hartog details how the local Jewish community in Vegas is responding. Rabbi Naomi Levy offers a special prayer for the victims. And our millennial poet, Hannah Arin, who was raised in Las Vegas, writes about a “desert that speaks.”

On our debate page, we have two views on the Second Amendment, one by our columnist Ben Shapiro and the other by Philadelphia attorney and gun-control activist Karen Kaskey.

Meanwhile, Karen Lehrman Bloch weighs in on the Harvey Weinstein sex scandal that has provided its own source of darkness, while new columnist Dr. Jennifer Yashari writes about the challenges of living with a degenerative muscular disease that strikes mostly Persian Jews.

As consumed as we are by one event, the weekly rhythm of our stories continues. Senior Writer Eitan Arom reports on the plight of the Yazidis, which the community learned more about during Yom Kippur services, while Kelly Hartog writes about a newsstand owner in Brentwood who is taking a stand against Whole Foods.

So yes, darkness hits us time and time again, but life and Torah continue…. In our free society, maybe that is the best message we can deliver to the forces of darkness: no matter what comes, we ain’t going nowhere.

From Israel, our political editor Shmuel Rosner weighs in on the Iran deal, while Debra Kamin profiles a biker, former drug addict and dog rescuer in “Humans of Israel.” You’ll find many more stories throughout the paper, including a book review on “The Salome Ensemble” and Naomi Pfefferman’s story on a new film about Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

To coincide with the new beginning of the reading of the Torah, we are launching this week a new feature called “Table for Five,” in which five different voices comment on a verse from the weekly Torah portion. In this issue, we have American Jewish University’s Rabbi Elliot Dorff, Sephardic Rabbi Marc Angel, Jerusalem scholar Tova Hartman, Venice Rabbi Lori Shapiro and Hancock Park Chassidic Rabbi Reuven Wolfe weighing in on a seminal episode from the Garden of Eden.

So yes, darkness hits us time and time again, but life and Torah continue. When Jason Aldean was interrupted by the guns of evil, he was about to sing, “But when she says baby / Oh, no matter what comes ain’t goin’ nowhere.”

In our free society, maybe that is the best message we can deliver to the forces of darkness: No matter what comes, we ain’t going nowhere.

5 short comments on the Las Vegas massacre: Thinking about the next concert

A candlelight vigil is pictured on the Las Vegas strip following a mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Country Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, U.S., October 2, 2017. Picture taken October 2, 2017. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

A day of mourning. A day of baffled mourning. You mourn the dead and pray for the wounded. You also begin mourning the next senseless act of terror, and the one after that. That is, because you know there is no end to this violence in sight, no identifiable explanation that can be dealt with and hence no identifiable remedy.

1.

All the many politicians and pundits who try to explain the source of evil after such events can be divided into two main groups: those who point the finger at people’s behaviour and those who point the finger at government policies.

President Trump, in his speech yesterday, clearly positioned himself in the first group.

President Obama, in every speech he made after every attack during his term as president, positioned himself in the second group.

It would be unwise to describe this as a pragmatic debate about the benefits of gun control. This is a debate about the responsibility and rights of men vs. the responsibility and rights of governments.

2.

Being an Israeli, I am all for gun control. Being a realistic observer, though, I wonder about the call to drain America’s gun swamp. This seems as doable as deporting America’s illegal immigrants. President Trump vowed at some point that all illegal immigrants will have to leave, and his critics were quick to explain that deportation of more than ten million illegal immigrants is not a viable policy. The same critics should be honest enough to acknowledge that collecting 300 million guns is also not a viable proposal.

In other words, even if there is a change of gun policy (which is not forthcoming), it will take many years for this change to have real impact.

3.

My fellow Israelis, who watch Las Vegas from afar with horror and bewilderment, take note: constitutions are great — but they are also very stubborn. Getting rid of guns and of the lobby system is impossible, among other things, because both are guaranteed by constitutional arrangements. This does not necessarily mean that not having a constitution is preferable to having one. It does mean that every system has its flaws, and wishing for a constitution ought not to become a religion.

4.

While you cannot get the guns out of the hands of Americans, this does not mean that you cannot do a better job protecting Americans. It is only a matter of priority and cost. And it is possible that at some point, if attacks become even more common and deadly, the guarding of crowds in public places will become a higher priority that justifies the cost.

What can America do? It can have a better system of preventing people with guns from getting into hotels. It can have a better system of securing concerts, amusement parks and public demonstrations by making sure the crowd is sheltered from shooting from afar. It can have a better system of securing perimeters and making them gun free.

5.

When will this happen? When people hesitate to purchase concert tickets because of security concerns.

 

ADL alarmed by author speaking to Congress who links gun control and Holocaust

Stephen Halbrook

The Anti-Defamation League expressed concern that a witness at a congressional hearing on a controversial gun bill  wrote a book arguing that gun control rendered Jews defenseless during the Holocaust.

Stephen Halbrook, who wrote “Gun Control in the Third Reich” in 2015, is set to appear Tuesday at a meeting of the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources, which is considering the Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act. The bill would loosen controls on transporting firearms across state lines, an area that Halbrook has litigated as a prominent gun rights attorney.

“We have long been concerned about facile comparisons of gun control legislation in America to policies upheld by Nazi Germany during the Holocaust,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s national director, said in an email to JTA. “The national debate over gun control is a divisive issue with many strong opinions. While there are legitimate arguments on both sides, the notion that Jews could have saved themselves from the Nazi onslaught is not one of them. It is historically inaccurate and deeply offensive to bring the Holocaust into this debate where it simply does not belong.”

Halbrook’s book argued that a key element in the Nazis’ repressive policies was the disarming of Nazi enemies, a theory embraced last year by the then-presidential candidate and now-Housing Secretary Ben Carson. Halbrook emphasizes in his book that gun control was not a factor leading to the Holocaust. Instead, he says, it facilitated it.

Historians of Nazi Germany have widely discredited the theory, saying that whatever restrictions on gun purchases the Nazis placed on Jews must be seen as part of the array of repressive measures Nazis imposed on Jews and not as Nazis favoring gun controls per se. In fact, the Nazis in 1938 loosened controls on gun ownership for non-Jewish Germans.

Others have questioned how Jews in Germany, who made up only 1 percent of the population, could have staged an effective rebellion against the Nazis’ military regime.

JTA was alerted to Halbrook’s scheduled appearance before the committee by Americans for Responsible Solutions, a gun control advocacy group founded by Gabrielle Giffords, the Jewish Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who was shot and critically wounded by a gunman in 2011 in a deadly attack. She has since retired from Congress.

David Chipman, a senior adviser to the group, also appeared as a witness, testifying against a provision of the bill that would loosen restrictions on silencers. Its sponsor, Rep. Jeff Duncan, R-S.C., says silencers protect hunters’ hearing.

How Trump made me a Second Amendment American

Danielle Berrin takes aim at the Los Angeles Gun Club shooting range. Photos and video by Rick Sorkin

We called ourselves Bonnie and Clyde for the day.

We felt dangerous and powerful holding the gun between our fists, laying our eyes on the target, spraying bullets into the air.

Boom! Bullet to the head.

Boom! Bullet to the eye.

Boom! Boom! Boom! Thigh, kidney, heart.

I never imagined I’d be a good shot. But there I was, spending a Friday afternoon at the Los Angeles Gun Club, shooting a weapon for the first time.

Something about the frenzied atmosphere of paranoia caused by the Donald Trump Administration — with its covert Russian ties, autocratic tendencies and growing contempt for the press (not to mention the surge of the alt-right) — inspired me to get a handle on self-defense.

I wasn’t alone. The New Yorker recently reported that Silicon Valley and Wall Street executives are buying foreign landing strips and underground luxury apartments, and stocking up on ammunition, preparing for the “crackup of civilization.” It’s a bit hysterical, I admit, and the moral calculus of the über-wealthy seeking only to spare themselves is disturbing. But it got me thinking: What recourse do the rest of us have if we can’t afford an end-of-days investment in former missile silos?

Enter: The Gun.

F8B29601-2AC7-4290-9688-CF70FC51FE4B

Growing up, I never encountered one. “Mom was a little freaked out about them,” my dad said. So, we didn’t have one in the house. Guns, for me, were exotic and unfamiliar — the domain of Hollywood movies, faraway wars or my dad’s Republican cousin. As an adult, I came to associate guns with mass shootings and politics; at shul, I frequently heard sermons on behalf of gun control, but my exposure to the real thing was limited.

“I’m taking you shooting,” my friend, musician Rick Sorkin, said to me.

So, off we went to a nondescript building on a quiet block downtown. Inside, the L.A. Gun Club offers a dazzling array of firearms for rent and a small indoor shooting range.

DSC_0030

Guns were everywhere — symmetrically layed out in glass cases, mounted on walls and sitting in the holsters of the clerks who work there. An assortment of paper targets was plastered throughout for your shooting pleasure — a terrorist in a bush, a sketch of the human anatomy, or a plain old bull’s-eye. It was like a library, devoted to the culture of killing machines.

To get a gun, all Rick and I had to do was sign a release, then leave a fingerprint and a driver’s license. Minutes later, I was holding a Glock 17 in my hands — “popular with law enforcement,” the clerk said. Since it was my first time, he performed a brief demonstration, showing me how to lock, load and shoot before we entered the range.

DSC_0048Rick clicked in a round of cartridges, then handed me my first loaded gun. My nerves simmered as I gripped it, one hand over the other, index finger flat on the side, right above the trigger.

I stood in our little chamber as the sound of rifles exploded all around us, so loud it was dizzying, despite the fact I was wearing both earplugs and earmuffs. Feet firmly apart, I lifted the gun and aimed at the target.

“Take a deep breath, then pull the trigger on the exhale,” Rick said.

But I could barely breathe, I was so overwhelmed. I was sure the thing either was going to accidentally kill someone or backfire in my face.

“I don’t think I can do it,” I told him.

But there was no way I was going to chicken out while a guy had all the fun.

I squinted over the top of the barrel and aimed for the head on the target.

Boom! Right through the brain.

IMG_5432

Blood surged through my veins in a heady rush of adrenaline and excitement. I had metaphorically killed a man with my very first shot. That’s how easy it is to end a life.

Shooting a gun, it turns out, can be exhilarating, especially when you’re good at it. It also demystifies an object associated with death and destruction. As a woman, it’s empowering to hold a weapon in your hands and know how to use it. But it’s a complicated power — God forbid you ever need to exercise it.

DSC_0158The more I pounded my paper target, the more I realized the dissonance of what I was doing: Target practice is fun, even a bit addictive, but let’s be honest, it’s not the reason guns exist. They were created to kill animals and human beings.

That doesn’t mean, given the current political atmosphere and the history of our country, that I’m not grateful for the constitutional right to bear arms. I like that more than 200 years after the Second Amendment was adopted, a relatively defenseless urbanite like myself can walk into a gun range, get some instruction and learn a new way to protect myself — though I’m also aware of the risks of gun ownership and that I’d need more training and practice before I ever felt comfortable, God forbid, using a gun to save myself or someone else.

I also know the religious tradition I love aspires to a prophetic vision of a world of nonviolence, where swords will turn into plowshares and “nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

DSC_0335

But from one afternoon, the Demon Gun now feels a little less demonic. And me? I feel a little more American.


Danielle Berrin is a senior writer and columnist at the Jewish Journal.

Filibustering for gun control, senator invokes heroism of Holocaust survivor

In the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, engineering professor Liviu Librescu, a Romania-born Israeli Holocaust survivor, died blocking the classroom door and shouting “hurry” as his students fled through a window.

It was Yom Hashoah, Israel’s Holocaust Memorial Day.

Librescu, 76, was among 32 people killed in the mass shooting, the deadliest in U.S. history at the time. On Sunday, a gunman who swore allegiance to the Islamic State group massacred 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Tim Kaine, in 2007 the governor of Virginia and and now its senator, is still haunted by Librescu’s murder and his heroism, and he attempted to make sense of it late Wednesday night.

Kaine spoke during a filibuster in the U.S Senate led by Democrats to bring to a vote measures that would ban people on the U.S. terrorist watch list from getting gun licenses and that would add background checks to guns purchased at gun shows and over the internet.

“So somebody who survived the Holocaust of the Nazis, who survived the Soviet oppression of his native land, couldn’t survive the holocaust of gun violence in this country,” Kaine said of Librescu.

For seven minutes of the 15 hours straight that Democrats spoke, Kaine addressed Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., who led the filibuster and who is still haunted by the victims of the 2012 Newtown massacre of 20 first-graders and six adults in his home state.

Kaine, at times pausing to maintain his composure, engaged a question that has anguished Jews throughout the post-Holocaust period: What are our choices in the face of evil?:

While the students who went into that class on the morning of April 16, they weren’t thinking about Yom Hashoah, Liviu Librescu was — and I’ve got to believe when that shooting started on this day when he’s thinking about what he’s been through, that he’s faced with an existential – am I going to be a perpetrator, am I going to be a victim, am I going to be a survivor, am I going to be a hero, and he chose to be a hero, and he lost his life.

He chose to be a hero and he lost his life.

Would I do that? Would I stand in front of a door, and block it and take bullets and tell my students to get out of the window, would I do that?

I cannot honestly stand here and say that I would.

I can’t say that I would have the courage of Liviu Librescu. He was a hero. I cant say I’d be a hero.

But in this body we don’t have to be heroes, we just have to not be bystanders.

We’ve been bystanders in this body, we’ve been bystanders in this nation as this carnage of gun violence has gone from one tragedy to the next.

To cast a vote, that’s not heroic, to stand up and say, we can be safer tomorrow, we can protect people’s lives, that’s not heroic that’s just saying I will not be a bystander, and that’s all we have to do, stop being bystanders.

NRA praises Bernie Sanders for his defense of gun manufacturers

The National Rifle Association praised presidential candidate Bernie Sanders for saying a law he supported kept lawsuits from driving gun manufacturers out of the United States.

“Sen. Sanders was spot-on in his comments about gun manufacturer liability,” the gun lobby said Monday in a tweet about the Democratic debate the previous evening between Sanders, an Independent senator from Vermont, and Hillary Clinton, his rival to be the party’s nominee.

Clinton, who hews to Sanders’ right on most issues, including health care, foreign policy and dealing with Wall Street, has hammered him throughout the campaign on gun control, the one major issue where she stands to his left.

In Sunday’s debate broadcast by CNN from Flint, Michigan, Clinton pointed out that she voted against a 2005 law that protected manufacturers from lawsuits. Sanders, then in the U.S. House of Representatives, voted for it.

Sanders said he would not oppose lawsuits if the seller or manufacturer could be shown to reasonably anticipate they were selling guns to criminals.

“If they are selling a product to a person who buys it legally, what you’re really talking about is ending gun manufacturing in America,” he said. “I don’t agree with that.”

That quote by Sanders was attached to the NRA tweet superimposed over the lobby’s logo.

The CNN moderators raised the question because the families of 26 people murdered in 2012 at a Newtown, Connecticut elementary school – among them 20 first-graders – are suing Remington, the manufacturer of the semi-automatic rifle used in the killings.

Sanders, the first Jewish candidate to win in a presidential nomination contest for a major party, has said his support for some laws protecting gun owners and gunmakers derives from the hunting culture in his state, Vermont.

After anti-Semitic post, Ted Nugent joins Jewish gun rights group

Ted Nugent has reportedly joined a Jewish gun rights advocacy group after being sharply criticized for posting an image on Facebook blaming several prominent Jews for spearheading gun control.

Nicki Kenyon of the Zelman Partisans group wrote Monday that Nugent accepted the group’s honorary membership offer. The right-wing rocker also reportedly said he would wear kippah with the group’s logo on television.

Nugent had posted a graphic on Facebook on Feb. 8 that included Jewish leaders such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and New York Sen. Chuck Schumer branded with Israeli-flag icons.

“Know these punks. They hate freedom, they hate good over evil,” Nugent wrote in the post. “They would deny us the basic human right to self defense & to KEEP AND BEAR ARMS while many of them have tax paid hired ARMED security! Know them well. Tell every1 you know how evil they are. Let us raise maximum hell to shut them down!”

Nugent took to Facebook again after the initial response to his post and wrote: “Plummet on punks. Plummet on. Meanwhile I adjust my yamika [sic] at my barmitzva [sic] playing my kosher guitar. My dad killed nazis & saved Jews in WWII. Eat me.”

Kenyon claimed in a blog post on the Zelman Partisans website that Nugent, who was criticized by the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among others, does not have “an anti-Semitic bone in his body” despite the fact that he posted an admittedly anti-Semitic image.

“Can I say oy vey?” Kenyon quoted Nugent as saying in a phone conversation. “I sincerely apologize for my irresponsible re-posting of such a nasty and offensive meme. In my rush between songwriting jams and musical recording frenzy, all I saw was the images of people dedicated to disarm us, I made no connection whatsoever to any religious affiliation. Everyone knows deep down that at 67 years of age I didn’t suddenly become anti-Semitic. That’s patently ridiculous, and those who rushed to such a mistaken condemning judgement should re-examine the system by which such equally irresponsible knee-jerk judgments are made.”

Kenyon wrote that her group sent Nugent a membership packet and a kippah.

Jewish groups slam Ted Nugent for anti-Semitic gun control post

Right-wing rocker Ted Nugent came under fire from Jewish groups for an anti-Semitic Facebook post blaming prominent Jews for pushing gun control.

On Monday, Nugent shared a graphic featuring images of 12 Jews — including former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Democratic New York Sen. Chuck Schumer — branded with images of Israeli flags below the words: “So who is really behind gun control?”

Screenshot of the graphic posted on Ted Nugent’s Facebook page

Alongside the graphic, which has previously appeared on anti-Semitic websites, Nugent wrote:

“Know these punks. They hate freedom, they hate good over evil. They would deny us the basic human right to self defense & to KEEP AND BEAR ARMS while many of them have tax paid hired ARMED security! Know them well. Tell every1 you know how evil they are. Let us raise maximum hell to shut them down!”

Jewish organizations quickly condemned the post.

“Ted Nugent has a long history of being an equal opportunity offender. But his latest share on Facebook, making the outrageous suggestion that Jews are behind gun control, is nothing short of conspiratorial anti-Semitism,” said an Anti-Defamation League statement signed by CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center, said in a statement: “Ted Nugent has every right to advocate against gun control laws. However he won’t be getting a free pass for his anti-Semitic bigotry. There are Jews on both sides of the gun control controversy and Nugent knows it. He owes our community an apology. He can start by removing the offensive graphic and if he won’t we urge Facebook to do it for him.”

In the graphic on Facebook, the Jewish politicians and activists are labeled with descriptions, such as “Jew York City Mayor Mikey Bloomberg” and “Sen. Chucky boy Schumer.” Over Emanuel’s face, the text reads: “Served in Israel’s army during Gulf war.”

Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz and U.S. Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, both California Democrats, are also among those targeted.

Nugent, the voice of 1970s hits like “Stranglehold,” is an avid hunter, a board member of the National Rifle Association and a strong supporter of the Republican Party. He has a history of making inflammatory statements.

In response to the recently released Michael Bay film “13 Hours” about the highly politicized attack by Islamist militants on the U.S. Embassy in Benghazi, Libya, Nugent said President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton should be “tried for treason and hung.”

Professor, you’re fired! Or, the education of a Trump voter

“@marty kaplan Let me guess Marty you believe in global warming too Doctoral degree holder here”

There it was, captured in a single sad, hilarious tweet: the whole maddening trainwreck of American democracy, 2016. 

Two days before that taunt from someone I don’t know was launched into the twitterverse, I had posted a piece about a psychological disorder I called ““>laid out the evidence of a “Trump gap” in education. “Even in a sprawling field of 15 candidates,” he wrote, “Trump has opened a wide lead among Republicans without a college education almost everywhere,” a point he documented with polling data from Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, Nevada, Virginia, Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania. ““>Jade Helm, a Navy Seal/Green Beret training exercise, was a false flag operation – a cover for imposing federal martial law, seizing citizens’ guns and transporting political prisoners to FEMA camps secretly set up in West Texas Wal-Marts.

I’m not making this up. Republicans are “>loons and cranks in every other democracy on the planet.  Another PhD, an associate professor of communications at Florida Atlantic University, until recently was telling his students that the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., Charleston, S.C. and San Bernardino, Calif., were Obama administration hoaxes concocted to boost support for gun control; a few days ago, that tenured professor “>told Anderson

Cooper that Jade Helm paranoia and other “conspiracy theories floating around the Internet these days all the time” were wrapped up in the opposition to gun control.   What followed was revealing about journalism, about politics and about the epistemological toxin poisoning democracy. 

COOPER: Now, let me just jump in here, is it fair to call it a conspiracy –

OBAMA: Well, yeah –

COOPER: – because a lot of people really believe this deeply, that they just don't –

OBAMA: No –

COOPER: – they just don't trust you.

OBAMA: I'm sorry, Cooper. Yes, it is fair to call it a conspiracy. What are you saying? Are you suggesting that the notion that we are creating a plot to take everybody's guns away so that we can impose martial law –

COOPER: – not everybody, but there's certainly a lot of –

OBAMA: Is a conspiracy? Yes, that is a conspiracy! I would hope that you would agree with that. (APPLAUSE) Is that controversial, except on some websites around the country? 

Follow the reasoning: Cooper says that it’s unfair to suggest that Jade Helm conspiracy theorists are conspiracy theorists, that it’s unfair to fault them for claiming that Jade Helm is part of an Obama plot to take everyone’s guns away, because “a lot of people really believe this deeply.” In other words, whether a claim is true or false doesn’t hinge on facts; it turns instead on the sincerity of pubic feeling.

I love how Obama nailed Cooper for that.  Way worse than the so-called political correctness that Trump assails is the learned helplessness of journalists, public intellectuals and anyone else with half a brain and access to a media platform. Why be disingenuous about knowledge and learning? Why be defensive about objective criteria for true and false? Elites making cultural excuses for the popular appeal of proto-fascism: that’s what George W. Bush, who knew whereof he spoke, called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

There is a social institution called education, and there is a faculty called critical thinking that education is designed to hone. It is not a statistical fluke that, on average, the more education Republican primary voters have, the less they support Donald Trump. That’s how it’s supposed to work.

Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society. Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Why the Jewish Federations don’t talk about guns

Several Jewish groups on Tuesday came out singing the praises of President Barack Obama’s initiatives against gun violence. (The Anti-Defamation League too.)

On Wednesday, the Jewish Federations of North America joined the chorus — but it only hit a single note. And that note was mental health, not guns.

“Jewish Federations applaud the Obama administration for allocating $500 million to increase access to mental health care. Approximately one in five adults suffer from mental illness in the United States and nearly 60% of those have not received health care services in the past year. We praise President Obama for taking this vital step to help those in need,” the Jewish umbrella group’s statement read in full.

Yes, increasing access to mental health care is a component of the executive actions Obama announced Tuesday — but the real issue is of course gun control. Speaking to the press from the White House, the president shed tears as he recalled the first-graders massacred in 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut. Victims of gun violence stood behind him.

The group’s statement is like the travel agents lobby praising Obama for creating new opportunities for travel without mentioning that its because of renewed ties with Cuba. As JFNA knows, the $500 million allocation it applauds is likely to be earmarked for prevention of mental illnesses specifically linked to acts of gun violence — through domestic violence and suicide, for instance.

So why would the JFNA not mention guns? (Its affiliated public policy body, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, was among the groups to come out in support of Obama’s announcement.)

“It [mental health funding] is an issue Jewish Federations has/have advocated on for years and a consensus one among Federations,” the group wrote in response to an email inquiry from JTA.

JFNA followed-up with another email detailing its work lobbying Congress and the White House on mental health issues and promoting “health information technology funding for 125 Jewish Family & Children’s agencies that offer vital mental health services.”

In other words, mental health is a federations cause; the highly partisan issue of gun control is not.