Jewish Journal

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.