November 21, 2018

Letters to the Editor: Sephardic Judaism, Gun Violence and Tribalism

Ashkefardic Column

I loved David Suissa’s March 9 piece “Living in Ashkefardic Times” (as I do everything he writes). I have always felt that we are all Jews with a common foundation, and that we can only stand to benefit from enjoying what we experience and learn from one another’s traditions.

David, I still remember singing “Dror Yikra” with you at your Shabbat dinner, your surprise that I, of Ashkenazi origin, knew the Sephardic melody, and my response that the beauty of the words and melody spoke for themselves irrespective of the origin.

Michael Rosove via email


Sephardic Sharing

It was with great pleasure that I read Kelly Hartog’s cover story last week on the heightened interest in the Sephardic tradition (“The Many Facets of the Sephardic Spirit,” March 9). Its flexibility, optimism and inclusiveness of the entire Jewish community are most heartening. Moreover, I found it interesting that its origins in Muslim countries may create the understanding necessary for greater potential in peacemaking initiatives by Israel with its neighbors.

I wanted to alert the public to the fact that Academy for Jewish Religion California (AJRCA) also offers an accredited master’s degree in Sephardic studies and held a sold-out Sephardic/Persian event just last week that included music, food and a prominent panel. The Sephardic community tradition holds great promise in addressing our current fragmented Jewish community. Congratulations to the great job the Sephardic Educational Center is doing to make its great tradition available to the public.

Rabbi Mel Gottlieb, President, AJRCA via email


Talking Gun Violence

Given our gun culture, the number of firearms and the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA), it may be impossible to completely eliminate mass shootings, which are occurring with increasing frequency. But there is a rational solution to preventing a good deal of the mayhem.

The common thread between all mass shooters is their acquisition of an inordinate amount of firearms and ammunition before committing a rampage. Creating a national registry of guns and ammo could provide an automatic warning when an individual is amassing a suspicious number of weapons and shells. Authorities could then further investigate whether that person poses a public threat.

The NRA is strongly opposed to gun registration, but its excuse that it is a slippery slope leading to the confiscation of all weapons is ridiculous. Registering cars has not led to eliminating automobiles. Moreover, registering guns and ammunition does not contradict even the most far-fetched interpretation of the Second Amendment.

Ted Carmely via email

Driving to the 90th Oscars brought home the reality of the Hollywood left’s absolute hypocrisy.

There were checkpoints for passes, bomb detectors, maneuverability. There were street barriers along a designated route. There were fences on the sidewalks, blimps in the air. There were SWAT armored vehicles, police cruisers and motorcycles. I have never seen so many armed officers!

Where were the gun-grabbers?

Where was security at the Parkland High School? The Pulse nightclub? Sandy Hook? Columbine?

Taking firearms from citizens to protect themselves from government overreach, corruption and abject failure … what a concept!

Ever gone through security at LAX? The IRS? A courthouse? The mayor’s office?

Let’s do away with “gun-free” zones, where good people are sitting ducks for aberrant individuals and terrorists.

Enriqué Gascon, Westside Village


Columnist Gets It Just Right

Karen Lehrman Bloch beautifully states where we are in 2018 (“Can We Please Start Over?” March 9).

Simply, she says we are all different, and when people try to make their point(s) by bullying, there can be no dialogue. Just screaming at each other.

Agree to disagree and everything can be discussed. Then, Bloch’s vision of respect for each other’s opinions can become the new norm. Our society requires this approach for effective communication.

Warren J. Potash, Moorpark


David Light’s View

I’d never heard of David Light before reading the “Just Asking” interview with him in the March 9 issue, but I applaud his courage. His statement that his rabbi wife’s group IKAR “was founded during the Bush [43] years, so we were forged in the fires of resistance” was especially stirring.

Chaim Sisman, Los Angeles


Harrell’s Humanity

Thank you for the story about about Lynn Harrell (“Cellist Lynn Harrell’s Meta Moment,” March 9). In an era of almost dystopian combativeness, it was uplifting to read about a fellow traveler whose hands and heart are much bigger than most, sharing his gifts generously with the world.  He is a mensch and it makes me proud to have him within our community. Well done and l’chaim.

Eric Biren, Santa Monica


Reacting to the Rabbis

Reform Rabbi Sarah Bassin confronts Orthodox Rabbi Ari Schwarzberg over the issue of unequal representation of women in Orthodoxy (“Back and Forth,” March 9). She writes, “I literally do not count — in a minyan, as a witness or a rabbi.” Rabbi Schwarzberg responds that “gender and halachah is our community’s foremost issue.”

As a non-Orthodox convert of more than 50 years, who belongs to an Orthodox synagogue and attends daily minyan there, I would reply to Rabbi Schwarzberg’s fear by stating that, indeed, I feel those standards should be changed, which is part of the reason I go to Orthodox services daily. I personally know what it feels like to not count in an existential way that surpasses what Rabbi Bassin has experienced. While she may justifiably complain the she literally does not count as part of the minyan, the plight of the non-Orthodox converts trumps that invisibility by leaps and bounds; we not only don’t count for a minyan, we also don’t even count as being Jewish in Orthodox eyes, and should we happen to also be women converts, we get the double humiliation of not having our children and future generations count as being Jewish in their view.

The commandment that is listed more times in the Torah than any other is to remember and welcome the stranger and treat them with compassion, because we Jews were strangers in Egypt. =We Jews by Choice have transformed our lives for love of God, Torah and Am Israel. We deserve better treatment.

Peter Robinson, Woodland Hills


Trapped in Our Tribes

I love your sense of humor and your honesty, David Suissa! (“Trapped Inside of Our Tribes,” March 2). I read your column several times and really enjoyed it. It is such a truthful reflection of the American political reality.

That is what great journalism is all about: To show those trapped inside their powerful tribes what they look like in reality from outside. Similarly to what Suissa says, I can only pray that more of those in power read it.

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles


Liking the New-Look Journal

Ending the stories on the same page (instead of having to search in the back pages for the last two paragraphs) is much appreciated in the Jewish Journal.

I wish you and the Journal a better future and am confident that you seem to have the energy and good sense to achieve that.  However it would be nice if you added some new blood, and let me suggest three Jewish writers I admire: Melanie Phillips, a very strong International woman’s voice; Joel Kotkin, a liberal Jew who is writing amazing pieces about California; and Daniel Greenfield, a religious Jew who writes amazing pieces about everything.

Shura Reininger via email

Letters to the Editor: Poland Holocaust Bill, Gun Violence, #MeToo and Hamilton’s Jewish Identity

Poland’s Controversial Holocaust Bill

Poland’s new law rewriting its World War II history about not having any involvement in creating concentration camps in their country is a lie. Three million Polish Jews died in their Polish camps, and Polish people were involved in helping the Germans. They pointed out Jewish homes, where the Germans took whatever they wanted, and they helped with building and running the concentration camps. And when 40 Jewish survivors came back in Kielce to claim their homes and businesses after the war, the Polish people killed them. This was going on in most cities in Poland if you dared to come home after being liberated.

This is an unfair law to pass in a country that was deeply involved in killing so many Jews. I know because I was there. I am a witness and I am a survivor.

Ella Mandel via email


No Solutions to Preventing Gun Violence

I find little reason to think that the CIA, FBI, state and local police, psychologists and psychiatrists, family, friends, neighbors or schoolmates will ever be able to identify all among us who may, someday, perpetrate a mass shooting, and it’s clear that we’ll never have the resources to track and monitor even those who are deemed suspicious.

The semi-automatic rifles debate and failed regulations won’t change until our politicians climb out of the pocket of the National Rifle Association, and there’s scant likelihood of this happening anytime soon.

The 300 million-plus guns in which we’re awash won’t be collected and will continue to be easy to obtain, and the gun manufacturers aren’t planning to go out of business.

Hunters, marksmen, hobbyists and those who own guns for self-protection shouldn’t have to fear that the government wants them.

The only solution I see for those who want to protect their loved ones and others is to move to another country, preferably one that isn’t rife with terrorists.

Hal Rothberg via email


A Dangerous Escalation Among Nations

One is cordially reminded of that ol’ shibboleth: “The more things change, the more they stay the same (“Down Payment,” Feb. 16).

It’s all very complicated, but is that still not true?

Walter Uhrman, Encino


Seeing the Light of Southern California

As a native Angeleno from Boyle Heights, it was an absolute joy to read Karen Lehrman Bloch’s piece “Seduced by the Light of Los Angeles” (Feb. 16). Especially when all one needs to do to encounter the opposite sentiment is to visit or live some 500 miles to the north of us in San Francisco, as I did to attend college in the late ’60s and early ’70s. In “The City,” as many San Franciscans like to call it, you dare not mention you are from L.A. for fear of having them look down their collective noses at you, after which you’ll invariably be the recipient of some snide remark about our great city.

Thank you, Ms. Lehrman Bloch.

Marc Yablonka via email


Can Truth Survive?

Thanks so much, Shmuel Rosner, for the excellent analysis of the Rand Corp. study about truth decay and the great conclusion at the end of your article (“Truth Decay,” Feb. 9). I would like to just add a couple of things: From my observation, I think more and more people look for the truth in the wrong place — outside of themselves — and so become addicted to collecting more and more information. And second: It doesn’t matter how much information or knowledge or richness one has. What truly matters is what he or she does with them. But both my remarks only reinforce your great conclusion “that we no longer know what’s true and what’s not.”

Svetlozar Garmidolov, Los Angeles

For the people who endure blood libels, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and college campus apartheid walls, do we really need the Journal to explore the “modern” decay of truth?

While I agree with Shmuel Rosner about “leaving [President Donald] Trump [and his hyperbole] aside,” why trace the beginning of the end of the era of truth to 2014 when former Vice President Al Gore provides such a better example? In 2007, British High Court Judge Michael Burton ruled that Gore’s global warming film, “An Inconvenient Truth,” while “broadly accurate,” contained nine significant errors in “the context of alarmism and exaggeration.” Burton found that the film was a partisan political view and that its “apocalyptic vision” was not an impartial analysis of climate change. Happily, we have your Journal as a beacon of truth.

Warren Scheinin, Redondo Beach


American Presidents and Jewish Values

Gil Troy, in his story about presidents (“Why Jews Love Presidents [Most of the Time],” Feb. 16) reflects the message and mindset of the mainstream fake news, liberal left media in trying to provide some confirmation to support the bias of Jewish Democrats toward the Democratic Party, notwithstanding the fact that only 27 percent of Democrats support Israel and 79 percent of Republicans support Israel. He refers to Republican support for Israel as giving it a toxic embrace. If that weren’t enough, he then bashed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for alienating American Jewry.

He tries to give some emotional support to Democratic Jews who dislike President Donald Trump by consoling them as not being one-issue voters. The underlying premise of his story is that Jews can be patriotic Americans and hate Trump. He is oblivious to the fact that Trump is the best president for Israel and American Jews with the possible exception of Harry Truman, who recognized Israel 12 minutes after the formation of the state.

The events of this past week have proven that Gil Troy and the mainstream media are acting in conspiracy with the liberal left, mostly Jew-hating Democratic establishment.

Marshall Lerner, Beverly Hills


Obama and #IranianWomenToo

Kudos to David Suissa for his column “Obama and #IranianWomenToo” (Feb. 16). I continue to be unable to wrap my Jewish, pro-Israel mind around the fact that liberal American Jewish Democrats don’t get it that Barack Obama, through the Iranian deal and more, was Israel and American Jewry’s worst nightmare in decades. The only fault that I found in Suissa’s column was the omission of two words: John Kerry.

Marc Yablonka via email


A Conversion With Eyes Wide Open

In last week’s letters to the editor, Peter Robinson wrote that he knowingly chose to convert to non-Orthodox Judaism, and now rails at the unfairness that his heterodoxic theology and practice of Judaism is denied legitimacy by the Orthodox branch he consciously avoided. Ironically, he appeals to a rabbi whose branch of Judaism is likewise not recognized by Orthodoxy. You can’t join one club and expect reciprocity from a club with much stricter membership requirements.

Zev Newman, Los Angeles


The Problems of a Missile Defense

Regarding Larry Greenfield’s column, “Blessings of Missile Defense” (Feb. 16):

1.  Even if the systems deployed by Israel are of limited utility, Greenfield expands his argument to include missile defense against intercontinental missiles (ICBMs), which is actually destabilizing rather than protective. If an adversary believes that an anti-missile system deployed against it is operational and effective, that adversary will indeed be more rather than less likely to use its ICBMs first in a crisis, fearing that it will be attacked and then left defenseless to retaliate.

2.  Greenfield is correct that “decades of startling scientific and technological advancements” have resulted in deployment of anti-missile systems in the U.S. (Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, for one), but he fails to note that even in “rigged” tests, when the timing and location of dummy attacking missiles is made known and no decoys are used, U.S. anti-missile tests have failed at least 50 percent of the time. The system is simply a boondoggle for defense contractors. “Missile defense doesn’t promise perfection” is a gross and dangerous understatement.

Steve Daniels via email


Hamilton’s Jewish Identity Debated

After reading your story on Hamilton several times, I brought it to share with the Freda Mohr Senior Center Current Events Discussion Group (“Was Alexander Hamilton Jewish?” Feb. 16). Being Jewish, I was pleased that Hamilton, one of our country’s honored founders, seemed to have been Jewish.

However, one of our members had extensively researched this matter. He agrees that the information that was presented about Hamilton is correct as far as it goes, but much has not been included that would likely lead to a different conclusion.

His mother, named Rachel Faucette, probably was not Jewish. She had been married off to a wealthy Jewish man, whom she left after several years. A few years later, she gave birth to Alexander Hamilton, whose father was James Hamilton — apparently not Jewish. Furthermore, the school he attended may have not been “a Jewish school.” It had a teacher who taught a class with some aspects of Judaism, including the Ten Commandments in Hebrew.

In the final analysis, the panelists at the Feb. 7 event might have looked at some circumstantial information with a biased, prejudged viewpoint.

George Epstein via email    

Gun Violence is a Public Health Issue

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

Mike Feuer, Los Angeles city attorney and co-founder of the national coalition Prosecutors Against Gun Violence

Eighteen shootings in or near a school in six weeks. Words fail us, and they should — because expressions of sympathy, without action, dishonor the memories of those who perish.

What should our national agenda be? We should view gun violence as a public health issue, and rely on hard facts as our guide. Data tell us certain people are at higher risk of committing acts of violence. So we should prevent subjects of even temporary domestic violence restraining orders, violent misdemeanants, those who’ve been involuntarily hospitalized after a psychotic episode, and repeat DUI offenders from having firearms, at least for an extended period.

Nearly all Americans — except a majority in Congress — believe in universal background checks. Require them. There is promising research into so-called smart guns — firearms that can be fired only by their authorized user. Researchers report that the major source of guns used in the commission of crimes in L.A. is lost or stolen weapons. What if a thief couldn’t operate a gun that wasn’t his? What if a teen couldn’t fire her parents’ gun when suicide seemed the only answer?

Speaking of criminals and kids gaining access to guns, a nationwide campaign for safe gun storage should draw support from everyone. Yet only 16 states have laws compelling safe storage. My office prosecutes adults whose kids get access to guns that haven’t been locked away at home and are then brought to school. How much better it would be if these prosecutions weren’t necessary.

And how much better it would be if sorrow were replaced by outrage, focus and the courage to prevent the next atrocity.

The Torah and tachlis of violence with firearms: ethics and evidence

WARNING: This is serious stuff. Human life is at stake. If you are looking for confirmation of preconceived narratives, stop. You probably will not find that here. If you are looking for solutions in slogan form or less than 750 words, stop. You surely will not find that here. We will go ten times farther than that. And this is not a discussion about some utopian ideal. It concerns the world in which we actually live, with the government and law we have and human nature as it is. If you will not deal with reality or ambiguity, stop. You will be annoyed here. If you are not interested in facts that define a problem or evidence that may offer a solution, again, please stop. Otherwise you will be disappointed and unhappy. If anyone is left, thanks in advance for considering this essay.     

These days in the United States we see and hear much violence associated with firearms. Sometime it erupts in a mass shooting at a college or an elementary school, a church or a Jewish Community Center, a nightclub or, as it did most recently, an outdoor concert.  Sometimes it comes with the steady staccato of an attack by one gang banger attempting to snuff out another. Sometimes it comes by way of a single bullet, the shooter and the shot being the same person. However it manifests itself, the sadness that follows is palpable.  Our hearts are broken at the loss of life, of what might have been, of possibilities foreclosed permanently. And we are angry, too – angry at the perpetrator and angry about the conditions that permitted if not caused a person to become so hateful or so self-righteous or so desirous of notoriety or so callous or so full of despair that s/he acted to take a human life.

When such violence strikes, to the extent its senses and sensibilities have not been numbed, the Jewish community here has not been shy.  With sermons and articles and resolutions and more, it has spoken — loudly, passionately and repeatedly. But it has not spoken uniformly, much less always wisely.  There is in the Jewish community, as there is in the nation as a whole, a variety of viewpoints. The question before us is whether our tradition can offer both Torah and tachlis, that is both instruction grounded in Jewish values and ideas that are also practical and productive.

To answer that question, we first need to understand the nature and extent of violence involving firearms in America today. That is, before moving forward, we need to take a step back. We need some perspective. We need context. We need to look at the grim statistics and break them down. And in the course of the inquiry, we need to be mindful that there are statistics and then there are statistics. We will try to keep cherry-picking to a minimum. After that, we can consider the spectrum of Jewish ethical values and see how, if at all, they could inform a productive approach to the challenges presented by violence with firearms.

The Nature and Extent of Violence Involving Firearms in the United States

We begin with some basic numbers. In recent years in the United States, the annual number of deaths associated with firearms, whether guns, rifles or other such devices, has approximated 33,000. That averages to more than 90 a day. The human toll more than doubles if one includes the physically wounded. And related adverse psychological effects further exacerbate the problem.

But there is always a danger when one looks at large amounts of data like these numbers. They both reveal and conceal important information. How can we understand these numbers?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2015 just over 2,700,000 resident individuals died in the United States. By far, the leading causes of death were heart disease and malignant neoplasms (cancerous tumors), followed by chronic lower respiratory diseases. Those three natural causes accounted for just over half of the reported deaths. Of the top ten causes of death, two were not diseases. Unintentional injuries (accidents) and self-inflicted harm (suicide) ranked respectively as the fourth and tenth leading cause of death that year. Almost half of all suicides involved firearms.

Even including suicides, though, death involving firearms would not be ranked in the top ten or even top fifteen causes of death in America.  For instance, in 2015 there were fewer deaths involving firearms than deaths attributed to kidney disease, septicemia and pneumonitis, but deaths by those causes rarely get the headlines that firearm deaths do. Deaths involving motor vehicles, averaging 103 per day in 2015, are about three times more common than firearm related homicides, yet do not generate similar national or even local pressure for additional regulation.

There is a plausible explanation, of course. In the normal course, one expects to die of something, which, if not an accident, most likely will be one of the dozen or so diseases which are the leading causes of death. These diseases, in turn, can and often are diagnosed and managed, so preparations can be made. In the normal course, one does not expect to shot. And we cannot really prepare for such an event. It tends to come suddenly, literally explosively. We are saddened by Alzheimer’s disease, now the sixth leading cause of death. We are shocked by violence coming out of a barrel of a gun or rifle.

When we focus solely on deaths associated with firearms, now looking at final numbers for 2014, we see that more than three out of five such deaths (21,386) were due to suicide, that is, they were intentional and self-inflicted. About one-third of firearm related deaths that year (11,008) were the result of homicides, either murder or manslaughter. As bad as that was, it was also much lower than in 1993 when firearm related homicides peaked at 17,075.

Some types of activities are more likely than others to involve firearm related deaths: gang activity, commission of a felony and domestic disputes, including arguments and romantic triangles.  Aside from these categories, some homicides involving firearms in 2014 were the result of legal intervention (464), others were unintentional (461) and a smaller number were undetermined (275).  (See Deaths: Final Data for 2014 (at 12/122).) For the period 2001-2013, the number of individuals killed or wounded in mass shooting incidents has typically been less than 20 per year, with several notable exceptions, but, of course, that could change. Whether recent events indicate a new trend remains to be seen.

Further, while mass shootings and high-powered rifles garner the attention of the press, the public and the politicians, in those homicides for which the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) has received weapons data, the weapon involved two-thirds of all homicides was a handgun.  (See FBI 2015 Expanded Homicide Data Table 15.) Moreover, in the half of cases where the relationship offender and victim was known, about 60% of the time the offender was killed by a friend or acquaintance and 26% of the time the killer was a family member. (See FBI 2015 Expanded Homicide Table 10.)

The nature of the incidents involving firearm deaths and those involved may help us focus on possible approaches to reducing them, but, again, we still we need to be careful about the numbers we have. For instance, restricting the analysis to homicides involving firearms, the numbers translated to about 33 per day, every day, in the United States in 2014. This average daily number of deaths is horrific. It is also quite misleading. The frequency and distribution of such incidents varies widely depending on a few key factors like location, gender, age, and race. Even the time of year or the day of the week can be important.

Where does violence with firearms occur?

No geographic area is immune from the scourge of homicides, but the death rate in 2014 attributable to firearms was highest in the states of Alaska and Louisiana and the lowest in the nation in Hawaii and Rhode Island. It was slightly better than average in Illinois and Maryland, but tell that to the citizens of Chicago and Baltimore.

We can narrow our focus to large urban areas, like Chicago, but the complexity of the problem does not diminish. In the last few years, Chicago has sustained more firearm related deaths than any other community in the country: 415 in 2014, 473 in 2015 and 762 in 2016. The last number was greater than the number of homicides in New York City and Los Angeles combined. On average this means that the evening news in Chicago reported no less than a homicide a day, every day, and sometimes more, but summers are typically worse than winters, and weekends and holidays are generally worse than mid-week. During the July 4, 2017 extended holiday weekend, 102 individuals were shot and 15 died.

These numbers, though, mask the potentially crucial fact that the homicide rate in some neighborhoods in Chicago is drastically different than that in other neighborhoods. Many areas are free of firearm related violent crime, but others approach and may even exceed the homicide rate in third-world countries. (See here.) And Chicago is not unique. Mass shootings aside, homicides with guns tend to be spatially clustered to a limited number of “hot spots.”  (See here.)

Similarly, while the body count is high, Chicago does not have the worst homicide rate in the United States when deaths per 100,000 citizens are calculated. In fact, in 2016, it ranked no higher than eighth on one dishonorable list of community dysfunction.  Taking a slightly longer term view over a five year period, Chicago ranks twelfth, behind Detroit, St. Louis, New Orleans and Baltimore and others. The homicide rates in those four named cities are twice that of Chicago over the five year period. (See here.)

By contrast, Newtown, Connecticut is a small, picturesque, financially comfortable New England town. But for one incident, neither its firearm homicide numbers nor its rate or ranking would be noticeable. Yet, on December 14, 2012 in less than five minutes, one individual armed with a Bushmaster .223 caliber model  XM15 semi-automatic rifle loaded with exploding hollow point rounds shot 154 bullets into Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing six adults and twenty children and physically wounding and psychologically scarring untold others.

When considering who resorts to homicide with firearms, geography matters, but so does gender, race and age. According to FBI statistics for 2015, where the gender of the offender was known, nine out of ten times the killer was a male. Where race was known, about 53% of the offenders were Black or African American and 44% White.  (See FBI 2015 Expanded Homicide Data Table 3.) Where age was known, the greatest number of offenders was found in the 20-24 year old cohort, followed by the 25-29 year old bracket.  (Ibid.)

Who are the victims of the use of firearms?

Not surprisingly, the composition of the victims of homicidal violence tends to parallel that of the perpetrators. That is, according to the FBI, the victims are overwhelmingly male, they are young, and there are more likely to be Black than White. (See here.) Where the relationship between offender and victim is known, as noted above, the data is clear: offenders are more likely to kill friends, acquaintances and family members than strangers. (See here.) In other words, they tend to kill victims who resemble themselves.

A report in the July, 2017 issue of Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (the “Pediatrics Report”) confirms that the pattern observed by the FBI reaches deep down to affect our nation’s children. There is an enormous gap between boys and girls as victims. Whether the issue is death or injury, boys are involved in just over four of five incidents and girls in just under one in five. Similarly, there are significant differences in the rates of mortality between racial or ethnic groups. With respect to homicides involving firearms, the annual mortality rate for African American children was twice that of American Indian children, four times the rate for Hispanic children and about ten times the rate for White and Asian American children. Interestingly enough, the situation is different with respect to suicides. White and American Indian children have the highest rates of suicide involving firearms, rates four times higher than that of African American children and Hispanic children, and five times the rate for Asian American children.  (See generally, Pediatrics Report, at 4/14.)

The economic cost of violence with firearms

Researchers at John Hopkins University have estimated the cost of emergency department care for such violence at $2.8 billion dollars annually. If you think that number sounds high, consider another estimate from an investigator at the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation: $8 billion dollars in direct costs and another $221 billion in indirect costs. Putting issues of definitions and methodology aside, needless to say, the economic cost of firearm violence is substantial.

How many guns are there in the United States?

While violence involving firearms has a disparate impact in different neighborhoods and among different groups of people, the fact remains that a common denominator in all of this carnage is a firearm. Given the clear and devastating consequences of violence associated with firearms, some would like to ban or restrict their use, either by regulating the weapons themselves or the ammunition used. The National Rifle Association (NRA”), the largest promoter of firearms in the nation, opposes virtually all such regulation, with the succinct slogan “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

Though gun control advocates don’t like to acknowledge it, the NRA’s argument is largely true, but it is also incomplete and somewhat irrelevant (except in a not-to-be-underestimated political context). That is, the argument is accurate to the extent that firearms, by themselves and unloaded, are inert objects which cannot cause any more harm than any other solid object like a hammer. If you want to be serious about addressing violence with firearms, you have to recognize the reality that relatively few firearms are ever used to commit violence.

The point is underscored by looking at the number of firearms and firearm owners in the United States. We don’t have precise figures, but we have what appear to be good estimates of both. The population of the United States is now around 325 million people. According to a 2015 report by NORC, a nonpartisan research organization at the University of Chicago, while household gun ownership has declined in recent decades, almost one-third of all households report owning one or more weapons. This is consistent with numbers provided by the also nonpartisan Pew Research Center (“Pew”) in its 2017 study, America’s Complex Relationship with Guns. If there are individuals who would not self-report possession of a firearm, the fraction of homes with weapons may approach or even exceed two-fifths.

Whatever the actual number of households with firearms, and wherever they are located, on average each such household appears to possess more than one firearm. After all, there are firearms and then there are firearms. Someone may use a small pistol for target practice, a rifle for small game, another weapon for home defense. Unfortunately, there is no precise record of the number of firearms held by civilians in the United States, but data from the number of firearms manufactured, imported and exported suggest that the number of civilian guns in the United States passed the population of the country back in 2008. And the number of firearms manufactured in the United States, including guns, rifles, shotguns and other weapons, has exceeded 8,000,000 in recent years. (See ATF Annual Firearms Manufacturers and Export Report.) Even eliminating the highest estimates, there are probably in excess of 350,000,000 firearms in civilian hands in the United States today.

Who owns and possesses all of these firearms?

As one might expect, there are demographic differences in household firearms ownership. NORC found household firearms ownership was greatest in the East South Central region and smallest in the Pacific region and Northeast regions. Ownership was concentrated in rural areas and highest in counties with no town over 10,000. It was also more than twice as likely among households with income over $90,000 than with income below $25,000. More than twice as many white respondents acknowledged owning firearms than did African-American respondents or Hispanics.

To a degree then, the data we have on firearms possessed by resident of the United States can be read to support a key contention of the NRA. If we compare the number of deaths associated with firearms with the number of available firearms, the result is an exceedingly small percentage, less than two-tenths of one percent. This will be of absolutely no comfort to anyone who has lost a family member or friend due to violence, but it demonstrates the difficulty of dealing with the violence problem as a gun problem because it suggests strongly that 99.98% of all firearms in the United States are not being used irresponsibly.

The NRA’s argument is incomplete and somewhat irrelevant, though, because, when loaded, and when used intentionally for one of the purposes for which they were manufactured and sold, or used recklessly or simply used negligently, firearms can pack not just a powerful punch, but a lethal one. And that punch literally can extend well beyond the natural reach of the individual trying to harm another person. So, a firearm is different qualitatively than a knife or some other kind of weapon. And the difference in the nature of the device is why we don’t see drive-by knife attacks or mass murders committed with a bow and arrows. Even with respect to suicides, where suffocation or poison is often used, the method of choice seems to be a firearm.

Why have a firearm?

The reason people want to have guns and rifles is, according to Pew, multifaceted. Many, especially those who live in comfortable urban and suburban surroundings, do not understand a perceived need for, much less the attraction of, guns and rifles. But others do. The primary reason offered is usually for protection. For example, from 2014 to 2017, the greatest increase in applications for concealed-carry gun permits in Chicago came from Black women, often living in the more dangerous parts of the city. Whether their decision is wise may well be disputed, but none of the studies that contend that guns offer no protection or do not deter crime are, for obvious reasons, classic double blind or repeatable experiments, and the evidence that is presented is more suggestive than definitive. Academicians can correlate all they want, but does anyone not understand what motivates these women? Similarly, rural residents, living in isolated areas, may also look to firearms for protection.

Then there are those who just like to hunt and eat game animals or shoot at targets or just collect firearms or have a keepsake inherited from an ancestor. Still others want to have firearms because they can. That is, they have a legal right and want to exercise it. For them, firearms are a matter of freedom and independence. One man explained his collection of guns by analogizing them to shoes. Apparently he could not have enough of either.  Who knew?

Jewish Ethical Considerations

In response to the carnage associated with firearms, the Jewish community has done what it always has done when faced with a social issue – it has reached back for instruction, primarily to its foundational texts. The concern is clear, but can lessons forged in ancient hills of Judah and refined in living rooms in Babylon and, later, small communities in Europe have any applicability to the vastly different American society of the present? Let’s look at some of approaches that have been advanced.

The sanctity of life argument

Respect for life has many and deep roots in the Jewish tradition. The argument begins with two propositions asserted in the Torah and a third from the Talmud. The first, part of the Eden story found in Genesis, is that each person is made b’tzelem Elohim, in God’s image. (Gen. 1:27.)The second, from the Ten Commandments, is the injunction “You shall not murder.” (Ex. 20:13.) The sages recorded in the Talmud add the third, saying, with a bit of poetic hyperbole: “Anyone who takes a life it is as though he has destroyed the universe and anyone who saves a life it is as though he has saved the universe.” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5.)

Based largely on these propositions, as far back as 1975, the Reform movement called for the elimination of “the manufacture, importation, advertising, sale, transfer and possession of handguns, except in limited instances.” And, over the intervening years, the movement, through one or more of its arms, including the Religious Action Center (“RAC”), has been a consistent supporter of a wide variety of gun control measures.

As its name suggests, though, RAC is biased in favor of action and somewhat less focused on considered analysis or persuasion. For example, in a gun control statement which (as of  this writing)appears on its website, RAC notes the Jewish tradition favoring life and adds references to the prophet Isaiah’s dream that we should beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks (Is. 2:4) and reflections in the Talmud about a flaming sword held by Cherubim at the east of the Garden of Eden where Gehenna was created.

Unfortunately, these sentiments do not seriously address the problem. In fact, RAC simultaneously fails to present an honest and comprehensive view of the Jewish approach to violence and weapons, thereby leaving its credibility open to challenge, and resorts to language that is tone deaf and quite unlikely to have any effect on people who actually own, possess and utilize firearms.

For instance, RAC fails to address the numerous places in the Torah, and later in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, where life was disrespected and the murder of individuals, groups and nations was either required or rewarded. Cain, having committed the first murder (that of his brother!), was physically marked, but founded a city and begat many descendants. (See Gen. 4:8, 15, 17-22.) Pinchas slew an Israelite man and his Midianite woman, but later was elevated to the position of High Priest. (See Num. 25:8, Judges 2:28.) Though hitting a rock twice was enough to keep Moses himself out of the Promised Land, striking an Egyptian overlord until he died resulted in no punishment at all. (See Ex. 2:11, Num. 20:8-12.)

Moreover, RAC apparently fails to recognize that we are neither in a mythical Garden of Eden nor at the end of days about of which Isaiah was speaking.  Does RAC seriously think that a member of the notorious MS-13, Bloods or Mongols gangs or even a peaceful rural citizen in the Bible Belt, many of whom possess and use firearms, cares one whit about what some rabbi said two thousand years ago about winged beings near a valley where children were sacrificed or even a prophet’s messianic musings?

Another Jewish anti-firearm group takes a similar tack. It calls itself Rabbis Against Gun Violence, as if there are any rabbis for gun violence. This organization begins and essentially ends the Jewish underpinnings of its position with the famous phrase found at the end of Deuteronomy and read on the holiest of holy days, Yom Kippur: “Choose life.” (Deut. 30:19.) The problem here is that the phrase is taken out of context and is an incomplete, simplistic and, therefore, misleading invocation.

The authors of Deuteronomy were not talking about life in its physical sense, that is, the beating of a heart, the inhaling and exhaling of breath or the firing of synapses. They were talking about a large collection of rules and regulations which would if followed, they said, bring the blessing of a worthwhile life to each and all on land deemed promised by their god. (See Deut.  26:16-28:69.) They were making a political plea, not a medical or even an ethical one.

The shame of weapons argument

Orthodox Rabbi Ari Hart has offered a more creative approach. He notes that there is a view in the Talmud that sees weapons carried on Shabbat as shameful. (Shabbat 6:4.) He uses this concept as a basis for building a case for gun control. Rabbi Hart is correct in his reference, but looking at the discussion as a whole, the rabbis involved seem more concerned with the sanctity of the Sabbath than any particular device used in violating that sanctity.

In any event, the noted 13th century Spanish commentator Nachmanides had a sharply different view. He wrote about Lamech, who is mentioned in early in the Torah as a great-great-great grandson of the murderer Cain.  (Gen. 4:18; see here at 6/7.) In Nachmanides’ telling, Lamech taught his son Tubal-Cain the art of metal working. Nachmanides then imagines Lamech’s wives being worried that he, Lamech, would be punished by God for helping produce swords and, thus, facilitating murder. Anticipating a now familiar argument, Nachmanides tells us that Lamech comforted his wives by observing that the sword would not be the agent of death, rather the person who chose to wield the weapon would be. Apparently Nachmanides was a card carrying member of the Local Sword Association, the motto of which was “Swords don’t kill people, people kill people.”

The right of self-defense argument

There is yet one more argument that RAC and others who seek to ban or heavily regulate firearms tend to ignore. The Torah expressly exonerates a person who kills a pursuer who had an intent to kill him. (Ex. 22.1.) In twelfth century Spain, Maimonides, perhaps the greatest pre-modern Jewish philosopher, went further and argued that if a pursuer is warned not to proceed and continues his pursuit there is an obligation to kill the pursuer.  (See Hilkhot Rotze’ah U’shmirat Nefesh, 1:6-7.) That is, he acknowledged a right of self-defense and self-preservation. And, to his credit, so does Rabbi Hart.

There is even a passage in the Talmud that goes further still. Threatened by a whistleblower who was about to disclose that a rabbi had slandered a local official, the rabbi characterized the man as a pursuer and killed him first. (See B’rakhot 58a; see also Sanhedrin 72a-b.)

The danger of disarmament argument

Where might the thinking of Maimonides and Nachmanides lead? You can find out on a website called Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (“JPFO”). JPFO was founded almost 30 years ago with the stated purpose of educating Jewish Americans about what it says are the “historical evils that Jews have suffered when they have been disarmed.”

JPFO is not the most coherent website online. But if you can manage to wade through it, you can find at least two rationales for its mission. First, highlighting biblical episodes RAC and others fail to address, JPFO notes incidents, including one set at the time of the Judge and Prophet Deborah and one at the time of King Saul. In both cases, the people of Israel were facing disaster at least in part because they were unarmed.  (See Judges 5:7-8, Sam. 13:19.) In both cases, and with identical language, the Hebrew Bible stresses that there was neither a sword nor a spear among the entire population. And JPFO argues that today, in contrast to biblical times, the Jewish people cannot rely on a miracle to defend themselves.

Second, JPFO offers a list of situations, mostly in the twentieth century, in which a variety of nations have enacted strict gun control laws of various kinds and then targeted for elimination disfavored groups such as political opponents and ethnic minorities. Think Ottoman Turkey and Armenians, Nazi Germany and Jews and gypsies, Uganda and Christians, Rwanda and Tutsis.

Now, you may believe that such consequences could not happen here and that JPFO is paranoid, and you may be right. The narrative that Jews with firearms could have stopped the Third Reich, when better armed people from France to Russia could not, has been debunked by those with at least as strong a sense of history (and armaments) as JPFO, including Jewish defense organizations. The Anti-Defamation League (“ADL”), for instance, even argues that the Holocaust has no place in the domestic gun debate. Still, based on the ADL’s own analysis, anyone who in the last year has not observed an increase in hateful incidents in the United States, including Anti-Semitic ones, and a darker, more brazen tone to them as well, has either not been paying attention or is in denial.

None of this is intended to suggest an equivalency between RAC and JPFO as organizations, much less between a maximalist and minimalist orientation toward the control of firearms. Rather, it is to recognize that with respect to weapons of violence, and over more than 2,500 years, Jewish communities have generated a considerable variety of views and precedents regarding the sanctity of life and the propriety or obligation of self-defense. To deny that truth is neither intellectually honest, nor likely to be productive in resolving the similar tensions in the broader American discussion.

The concern for the safety of persons, places and things argument

And the Jewish ethical tradition has even more to say, especially about safety. Here are just two examples.

First, the Torah contains three closely related commandments. One, found in the Holiness Code, prohibits placing a “stumbling block” in front of the blind. (Lev. 19:14.) Another affirmatively requires building a parapet around the roof of a house lest someone fall and spill blood. (Deut. 22:8.) A third says summarily, “You shall guard and protect your lives.” (Deut. 4:9.) Each maxim seeks to keep a person from harm either because he or she cannot see or anticipate a dangerous condition or because the circumstances are inherently dangerous.

Note, though, how these principles can support both opponents as well as proponents of gun control laws. For instance, some would argue that readily accessible guns constitute a stumbling block, while others would suggest that restricting access to weapons impedes their ability to protect themselves. Some would argue that guarding yourself requires possession of a weapon, while others would contend that it means eliminating or securing them.

Similarly, the Talmud reports an argument about a dangerous dog. The majority view sought to prohibit the ownership of a mean or dangerous dog or at least require that anyone who had such a dog remove the risk of danger. (See Bava Kamma 15b, 46a.) Jewish gun control advocates naturally view this as a precedent for banning possession of a firearm or, minimally, requiring that weapons be securely locked and stored. As you may have guessed by now, the rabbis involved in this discussion also recognized exceptions to the general rule.  For example, they allowed those living in dangerous towns to unchain their dogs at night for protection. In sum, and continuing with a weapons metaphor, general safety principles can be used both as a sword and a shield.

Applying Jewish Ethical Guidelines to Today’s Reality

Applying the Jewish ethical principles honestly and productively to the dilemma of violence associated with firearms in the United States is both difficult and frustrating. First, as we have seen, an authentic Jewish ethical approach to the ownership, possession and use of weapons is neither simple nor uniform. Instead, it is complex and nuanced. As Chabad Rabbi Shlomo Yaffe has noted, correctly and wisely, the Torah merely required the placement of parapets around the roof of a house. It did not prohibit flat roofs. Second, the violence that is sought to be quelled manifests itself in so many ways that a plausible solution for one aspect would do nothing to alleviate the harm that arises in another setting. There will have to be many solutions for the varieties of violence we face. For both these reasons, those who insist on applying Biblical bumper stickers instead of urging reason and responsibility are not being as helpful as they could be.  We need fewer references to myths and messianism, and more emphasis on reality based ethics and evidence based solutions.

The discussion is also complicated by two other factors, one legal and the other practical. First, any effort to address violence associated with firearms in America must do so within the context of the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the United States Supreme Court ruled that individuals have a right under the Second Amendment to possess guns in their home for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense. Consequently, it held D.C.’s ban on handguns and certain restrictions on the possession of rifles to be unconstitutional. Subsequently, the ruling in Heller was made applicable to state and local governments in McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S. 742 (2010).

At the same time, writing for the majority in Heller, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, said that the Second Amendment right, like other constitutional rights, was “not unlimited.” More precisely, he acknowledged that the right historically was limited to those weapons “’in common use at the time,’” and consistent with “prohibiting the carrying of ‘dangerous and unusual weapons.’”  It was not, therefore, “a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose.” (554 U.S. at 626.)  Justice Scalia then identified, without limitation, individuals such as felons and the mentally ill and “sensitive places” such as schools and government building as being proper subjects of restrictions. Similarly, he recognized that there might be appropriate laws “imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms” and on “the storage of firearms to prevent accidents.”  (See generally, 554 U.S. at 626-32.)

Invoking some of the language discussed above, RAC, among other organizations predictably condemned Heller as misguided,” but taken as a whole, Heller was not (and is not) inconsistent with the traditional Jewish view, also seen in its entirety. The principle of self-defense was affirmed, and reasonable restrictions on one or more points of the trajectory of violence associated with firearms were declared to be presumptively valid. Moreover, recent history suggests that concerns over Heller were misplaced. According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, over a thousand cases involving restrictions on firearms have been decided since Heller and the restrictions have been upheld in over 90% of them. The permissibility of placing reasonable parapets is, therefore, established.

The second complicating factor is more daunting. It requires determining what kind of regulation might be effective in reducing the likelihood or incidence of violence involving firearms. From the design and manufacture of the weapon itself, to its sale and distribution, to its ownership, possession and use, what works? And does what works in one setting work in others?

A recent case illustrates the problem, and gives reason for concern. Not long before the recent mass shooting in Las Vegas which generated deserved outrage and, also, predictable cries for gun control, in the case Duncan v. Becerra, U. S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez (S.D. Cal.) considered the constitutionality of a new California law which barred the possession by gun owners of high-capacity ammunition magazines, i.e., those holding more than ten rounds. According to the law’s proponents these magazines were not needed by civilians for defense or hunters for sport, but were used in mass shootings. Nevertheless, Judge Benitez issued an injunction against enforcement of the new law. The standards applied by Judge Benitez, and his legal reasoning, may or may not make sense to higher courts or legal scholars. (Compare, e.g., Kolbe v. Hogan, –F.3d – (4th Cir. 2017) (En banc, 10-4; petition for certiorari pending.) But his findings of fact offer instruction for everyone.

In the course of his 66 page opinion, Judge Benitez reviewed the facts of 92 mass shootings in the United States and the testimony of numerous proffered experts to try to determine if the new law would have made any real difference in the outcomes of those situations. He found that it would not have made any or any substantial difference because magazines with over ten rounds were used in only 6 of the 92 cases considered, and half of those six involved already illegal acquisitions. Moreover, none of the state’s four experts provided persuasive, science based studies that showed the effectiveness of any ban on such magazines. One conceded that “robust supporting data is missing” and that “’available data and statistical models are unable to discern (any) effect.’” (Opinion, at 43/66.)

For those concerned with evidence as well as ethics, the absence of reliable research is a real problem and it extends beyond Judge Benitez’s courtroom. Last month, Leah Libresco, a former statistician and writer for FiveThirtyEight, created a social media stir when she wrote a short opinion piece for the Washington Post to the effect that research persuaded her that gun control was not the answer to the problem of violence with firearms.  More precisely, she said that certain popular proposals, including banning assault weapons, restricting silencers and reducing the size of magazines, are not likely to reduce violence where it frequently appears, with young gang members, abused partners and suicide victims.

The reaction to Libresco’s essay was swift. One headline on Vox blared: “The research is clear: gun control saves lives.” Yet, proving once again that text does not always follow where a headline leads, the author, German Lopez, concludes limply saying that “gun control does, at least to some extent, reduce gun deaths.” (At 8/12.) And that underwhelming conclusion was based on the results following a gun buyback program in Australia, not the United States. He then concedes that gun control cannot stop all violence, that other factors like poverty, urbanization and alcohol consumption play a role and that “we could always use more research into gun policy . . . .” (At 8-9/10.) Indeed.

Consider the individuals who are the source of much of the violence with firearms. Given the enormous gender disparity among homicide offenders who use firearms, “(a)ny account of gun violence in the United States, must,” as the American Psychological Association recognizes, “be able to explain both why males are the perpetrators of the vast majority of gun violence and why the vast majority of males never perpetrate gun violence.” The APA calls for the development of programs and settings “that aim to change gendered expectations for males that emphasize self-sufficiency, toughness, and violence, including gun violence.” That is, it wants more research. And if we are to be serious about addressing violence with firearms used by street gangs or directed toward female partners and friends, such research seems vital.

Similarly, more research concerning the intersection of mental illness and weapons with respect to both homicides and suicides seems necessary. Today, many assume that mental illness, however defined, is causally connected to or at least correlated with violence involving firearms, especially mass shootings. But, according to the APA, “most people suffering from a mental illness are not dangerous.” (Id.) Studies suggest that even people with diagnosable serious psychiatric disorders do not, absent a substance abuse disorder, present a likely risk of violent disorder. (See generally, “Mental illness and reduction of gun violence and suicide: bringing epidemiologic research to policy.” (At 10/20.) But perhaps more importantly, predicting who might engage in a violent act is “a very inexact science.” (Id. at 9/20.)

At the same time, federal and state laws respecting individuals who have been reported or adjudicated to have a mental illness are not consistent, comprehensive, coordinated or even well enforced. Consequently, more research is necessary to fill the gaps in our knowledge about the effectiveness of regulations which can reduce risks of harm to self and others, but neither reinforce stigmas about mental illness nor deter those who need it from seeking help. (See Id. at 13-14/20.)

Because Jewish tradition is pragmatic, it does not require us to research the best parapet when people are at risk of falling off a roof. Nor does it require us to save every life that is at risk. The oft quoted teaching of Rabbi Tarfon may well be applicable here: While you are not required to complete the task, neither may you desist from it. (Pirke Avot, 2:16.)

So, let’s recognize both the legal, but not absolute, right of citizens to keep and bear certain arms as established in Heller and its progeny and also the inherent and inalienable right of individuals and the public to life and the pursuit of happiness, marked at least by safety in their homes and in their normal movement in an open society, if not a risk free environment. Let’s also accept (1) that guns don’t kill, people do, (2) that when a person has access to a firearm the damage s/he can do with it can be lethal, and (3) when people kill with firearms, they do so sometimes maliciously, sometimes recklessly, sometimes negligently, sometimes under the influence of chemicals and sometimes due to internal disorders we may not fully understand. Let’s focus on human behavior and some potential means for increasing safety and reducing risk in those more common situations where acts of violence cluster. And, finally, let’s draw on the wisdom of a variety of social scientists, including among others, criminologists, behavioral economists, psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists and epidemiologists, that is published in evidenced based studies at respectable institutions like the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Research and Policy, the Joyce Foundation Gun Violence Prevention Program and elsewhere as noted above.

When we do this, we might be able to develop a non-exhaustive list, like the one that follows, of reasonable parapets worth further discussion:

  • Each state should establish a firearms safety program designed to teach individuals how to use and store firearms in a safe and secure manner. The states should license those who successfully pass their safety exam for a limited period of time, subject to renewal.
  • No person should be able to purchase a firearm, or possess or use one, without having passed the established safety standard in his or her state.
  • No person under the age of sixteen should possess or use a firearm, except in the presence of an adult who would be responsible for the conduct of the minor.
  • Police and community intervention initiatives that provide positive and immediate alternatives to violence, and that “strengthen . . . impulse control, personal responsibility, and capacity for conflict resolution” should be instituted and expanded.  (See, e.g.,Combating Gun Violence in Illinois: Evidence-Based Solutions” and Boston TenPoint Coalition.)
  • No person who commits a felony, while in possession of a firearm, should be entitled to own, possess or use any firearm for a limited period of time subsequent to the completion of his/her sentence for such felony, and should be required to turn over temporarily to local authorities any firearm in his/her possession.
  • No person convicted of more than one offense within a five year period of using a controlled substance or driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs should, for a limited period of time, be entitled to own, possess or use a firearm, and should be required to turn over temporarily to local authorities any firearm in his/her possession.
  • No person convicted of abuse or stalking, whether with respect to a spouse, dating partner, friend or otherwise, nor any person subject to a restraining order prohibiting harassment, threats or abuse, should, for a limited period of time, be entitled to own, possess or use a firearm, and should be required to turn over temporarily to local authorities any firearm in his/her possession.
  • Family members and intimate partners should be entitled to seek civil relief authorizing the temporary removal of firearms from a household based on a credible risk of harm to any person in that household.
  • Firearm owners should be required to report lost or stolen firearms. If any such person fails to do so and those firearms are used in crime, s/he should be held responsible.
  • Courts, agencies and other governmental bodies that may have information relevant to whether a person may be prohibited under federal law from purchasing a firearm should be provided such funds and personnel as are necessary and appropriate to transmit relevant records to the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (“NICS”).
  • Background checks should be required of every potential purchaser of a firearm prior to the sale of any firearm to that person, whether the sale is by a licensed dealer or private seller, and that information should be reported to a database in the state where the sale is contemplated and then transmitted to NICS or such other database as may be established.

A few final words

Language drives a discussion in complex ways. When there is a multi-vehicle incident which results in deaths and injuries, we do not characterize the event as “car violence” and we do not talk about “car control.” So why do we call violence with firearms “gun violence” and instinctively seek “gun control”? And more importantly, do those characterizations cause us to focus attention on an object instead of the behavior that activates the object or, further, the root causes of that behavior? Do they also and unnecessarily antagonize many individuals who might otherwise be willing to work to reduce violence associated with firearms?

The Jewish tradition, developed over an extended period of time in many settings, is fundamentally rooted in the reality of human nature and experience.  It is, consequently, sensitive to core desires for both safety and security. And, so, its insights, including its recognition of the tensions inherent in communal life, can be helpful in our deliberations. Significantly, when addressing relationships between individuals or between one individual and the larger society, Judaism does not call on us to act self-righteously or make a show of utopian virtue. Rather, it seeks practical solutions to often complex problems. Why don’t we all try that? Less preaching, less posturing. More listening, more learning. Less demonizing, more dialog. Who knows, maybe together we can act constructively and productively to make the world a little better tomorrow than we have it today.


A version of this essay was previously published at www.judaismandscience.com.

Police, people of color and a Jewish dream of justice

Last week, we watched in horror and dismay as violent event after violent event unfolded, each amplifying and recontextualizing the one before it. By Friday morning, July 8, five Dallas police officers were dead, three black men had been killed by the police (including the Dallas shooter), and countless families were broken and traumatized.

On Friday evening I was in the streets marching, chanting our movement’s simplest, yet most elusive assertion, “Black Lives Matter.” As a black person and a Jew, I was asserting the value of my own being — attempting to claim agency over my own body and the bodies of those who look like me in the face of racism and violence.

I usually find these marches and rallies empowering, but on this night I was deflated and sad. As we marched through the rapidly gentrifying streets of New York City, I couldn’t stop watching the faces of those people, especially white people — presumably many of them Jewish — who sat in outdoor cafes sipping wine or coasting by in the backseats of taxis. Some cheered or raised a glass, others gawked mutely; some were obviously annoyed at the minor disruption to their day. I joked darkly to a Jew of color who was marching with me that all of our signs should just say, “If you’re standing there, reading this, then you are part of the problem.”

On Sunday I joined a group of Jewish people of color, organized through Jews For Racial & Economic Justice, or JFREJ, to process and hold space for each other after a week of pain.

Many of those in the room with me have been active in the fight to pass the Right To Know Act , a piece of legislation before the City Council here that would help address the very issues that have brought our nation to this terrifying moment. It would create more trust and mutual respect between communities and the police by requiring officers to identify themselves with a business card when they stop you on the street, thus allowing you to follow up if you believe you were stopped or searched in a discriminatory or illegal manner.

It would also provide a remedy for unconstitutional searches by requiring officers to inform people when they have the right to refuse a search.

As I looked at the demoralized faces in the room, I understood why the week left us all so drained and depressed. For decades people of color have protested against discriminatory and violent policing. And while there have been some meaningful victories over the years, we have yet to win the true accountability that we need to secure our full civil rights and dignity. Ever since the death of Garner in my city — in some ways ever since the beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles 25 years ago — we’ve had the proof right in front of us, on our screens. We thought this new phenomenon — ubiquitous cameras providing new evidence of an enduring injustice — would shock the nation into action, but it hasn’t. We have organized and marched and rallied, thinking it would move the nation to value our lives and reform its policing. But it hasn’t.

All across America, local community groups are working to pass bills and make policy reforms such as the Right To Know Act. Each effort tries to address some small piece of the problem of racism and police violence — to chip off some tiny piece of the iceberg and make some progress. Our movement is growing, but not fast enough. Unless the Jewish community and everyone who is now watching from the sidelines gets involved, we will be sharing these tragic videos for years to come. Now is the moment to say “never again — not one more.” Now is the moment for white Jews to join us in the streets, to call your legislators, to donate your time and money. To invest in a future where we never have to enter Shabbat with the echoes of gunshots in our ears.

The only way we can ensure a future in which black lives matter and the police are trusted and respected by all is if white Jews, and all Americans, actively participate in the campaigns for racial justice and police accountability being waged all across the country by local organizations, especially those led by people of color. We can win, but only by creating movements too powerful to be ignored. In this struggle there is no neutral ground — if the Jewish community isn’t part of the solution, then it is part of the problem.

Like those people watching us march past them, most Americans don’t see this as their problem to solve. As Jews, we know what it means to fight for our survival while those around us do nothing. And as a Jew of color, I am tired of feeling abandoned by my friends and my larger Jewish community when they sit on the sidelines rather than fighting for my safety and full humanity.

Though  these weeks have been painful, I am still filled with hope for change and certainty that we will win. All I have to do is look at the community I am lucky enough to work with — the powerful, brilliant Jews of all races who are struggling for racial justice every day. They remind me of the most potent parts of our tradition: those that call us to strive for justice even in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. We won’t give up — we will pass bills like the Right to Know Act. With Jews at my side, I will be out in streets fighting for justice. Will you be there with me?

Israeli man shot in West Bank while in car with wife, 6 kids

An Israeli man was injured when his car was hit by multiple gun shots in the West Bank on Saturday evening.

Eitan Finkel, 30, of the southern Israeli city of Netivot, was driving with his wife and six children when his vehicle was hit near the Tekoa settlement, the Israel Defense Forces told the Israeli media. Finkel continued driving to the Efrat settlement, where he was taken by ambulance to the Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem.

Speaking from the hospital, Finkel told the Hamodia newspaper that he was surprised when a gunman “standing right across from us” did not shoot.

 

“It was a tremendous miracle. Only after we turned did he open fire on our car,” he said. “I managed to come out alive, and my wife screamed, ‘Drive, drive, hit the gas.’

“I asked my wife right away how the children are. I kept driving for another 10 minutes, until I saw an army jeep and stopped. During the whole drive I didn’t feel my leg, or that my shoe was filled with blood. My wife jumped out of the car and called the soldiers over, and from there I was evacuated to the hospital.”

The family had been heading home after visiting the settlement of Metzad, The Times of Israel reported.

On Sunday, two West Bank Palestinian villages remained under a military closure as Israeli troops searched for the shooters.

U.S. Supreme Court toughens gun ban for domestic violence

The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday expanded the types of domestic violence convictions that can trigger the loss of gun ownership rights in a ruling issued amid fierce debate about reducing firearms violence in America.

The justices, in a 6-2 ruling, rejected arguments that a gun-ownership prohibition should apply only to knowing or intentional, rather than reckless, conduct.

In dispute was a U.S. law passed two decades ago preventing people convicted of a “misdemeanor crime of domestic violence” from owning a firearm. Writing for the court, liberal Justice Elena Kagan said the law was enacted “to close a dangerous loophole” because many perpetrators of domestic violence were charged with misdemeanors rather than felonies.

Kagan said the U.S. Congress was targeting domestic abusers convicted under run-of-the-mill misdemeanor assault and battery laws, and that “reckless assaults” would be covered.

The issues of gun rights and gun control have been high in the national debate since 49 people were killed by a gunman on June 12 at an Orlando gay nightclub in the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Following the incident, gun control legislation was voted upon and defeated in the U.S. Senate, while House of Representatives Democrats staged a sit-in demanding action on gun control.

The latest gun case was brought to the Supreme Court from Maine by two men who, separately, pleaded guilty to domestic assault and then years later were charged with illegally possessing firearms. Both men had argued that they should not be subject to the gun prohibition because their prior convictions were based on reckless, rather than knowing or intentional, conduct.

Justice Clarence Thomas, a supporter of gun rights, wrote a dissent criticizing the ruling for blithely trampling on gun rights enshrined in the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment.

“This decision leaves the right to keep and bear arms up to the discretion of federal, state and local prosecutors,” Thomas wrote. “We treat no other constitutional right so cavalierly.”

Thomas wrote that during oral arguments in the case, “the government could not identify any other fundamental constitutional right that a person could lose forever by a single conviction for an infraction punishable only by a fine.”

It was in this case that Thomas ended his self-imposed decade of silence from the bench on Feb. 29, asking a question during an oral argument for the first time since Feb. 22, 2006.

At that time, he pressed an Obama administration lawyer with the question, “Can you give me another area where a misdemeanor violation suspends a constitutional right?” 

Can institutions like UCLA ever truly prepare for campus shootings?

A good part of what was so distressing about this month’s active shooter episode at UCLA was the familiarity of it all.

The death of William Klug, a brilliant and affable young professor, at the hands of a mad former graduate student, was the chief tragedy. But as our campus was taken over June 1 by a veritable army of armed law enforcement personnel in helicopters, police cars and trucks, I couldn’t help but think: Here we go again.

The sight of high school and college campuses in lockdown, with one or more active shooters terrorizing hundreds or thousands of students, has become normal. Since 2013, there have been 186 school shooting incidents, according to the Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that began compiling school shooting statistics after the Sandy Hook, Connecticut, massacre in 2012. Last year alone saw more than 50 school shooting incidents, 23 of which were on college campuses.

In a society facing an epidemic of gun violence, universities are, at their best, havens of freedom—sites of the free exchange of ideas, free and open interchange between diverse groups, and free movement across the sovereign campus island. But our freedom is being eroded as we hunker down in preparation for the next burst of deadly fire. Indeed, the vigilance with which we act on our campuses today takes a toll on that exhilarating sense of liberation—from ignorance, bias, and convention—that the university once offered.

I remember well the sad realization I had after Sandy Hook, that it now made sense to introduce active shooter preparation training for the UCLA History Department, of which I served as chair from 2010 to 2015. In 2013, we had our first preparedness session with an officer from the University of California Police Department. The announcement to our faculty, staff, and students noted that:

 An “Active Shooter” is defined as a situation where one or more suspects participate in a random or systematic shooting spree, demonstrating intent to continuously harm others. 

It’s an unfortunate sign of the times that we need to think this way, but it is very important that we be as prepared as possible for such an event. In that kind of situation, there are specific things we can do to protect ourselves and those around us.  

In point of fact, the randomness of these acts constrains our ability to protect ourselves. If we are in the wrong place at the wrong time or are the intended target, there is little to be done. Nonetheless, the active shooter trainer tried to prepare those in attendance for what to do: run from open spaces, closet yourself in your classroom or office, lock the door, turn off the lights, and keep silent. 

These are all sensible suggestions. But I was struck, after a second preparedness session, by the indeterminacy of what to do in a situation in which you find yourself in the same room as shooters. The options, as the UCLA Emergency Management webpage tells us, are three-fold: “Stay still and hope they don’t shoot you, run for an exit while zigzaging [sic], or attack the shooter.”

Fortunately, most of us never have and never will have to face that rather harrowing set of choices. In the meantime, we on college campuses usually put this prospect out of our minds. The more vigilant among us may pay increased attention to our immediate environs, locate exits in rooms, or even run through versions of game theory as we contemplate escape scenarios in our minds.

My own sense of vigilance was heightened during the time I served as department chair, especially when I would meet with irate and sometimes disturbed students. I would ask staff colleagues adjacent to me to pay special attention to any abrupt noises. I would also sit relatively close to the students and follow their hand movements in order to be able to act quickly if they took out a weapon.

I chided myself for engaging in this kind of suspicion-ridden activity, for it seemed to violate the basic trust that underlies the teacher-student relationship. And yet, I couldn’t stop myself from going through a mental checklist of preventative measures.

This is our reality now. Of course, we should follow the Australians and set in place tighter regulation of gun ownership. And of course, we should develop far better strategies and devote far more resources to help those with mental illness. These are absolute no-brainers. What more needs to happen to demonstrate their necessity?

Active shooter preparedness sessions are highly imperfect. They reveal that emergency management is an art, not a science. But these sessions are the best we have at present. And it is all the more important to undergo such training in the absence of far-reaching policy changes necessary to reduce the number of shootings.

In the meantime, even as we know that there will be more episodes, we must fight against the understandable impulse to constrain ourselves even further by censoring our words or altogether altering the ways we interact with colleagues and students out of fear. Difficult as it may be, we must endeavor to preserve that essential freedom of mind and movement that propels the university to do its important work for students and society alike.


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

This article originally appeared on Zocalo Public Square.

So few safe places

I was just sitting down to write this column  — about the new political landscape in Israel and how this latest shift even further to the right challenges the pro-democracy camp in Israel — when my phone started buzzing. Even before the breaking news update came, texts from friends started flashing on my screen: Did you hear the news? There’s been a shooting at UCLA.

Like almost all of you reading this now, I take the news out of Israel very personally. Each awful new step in the seemingly endless cycle of violence blocks out everything else for a while. We scan the news for the names of people and places: Where did it happen? Are my friends and family safe? What happens now? It’s a disconcertingly familiar feeling, one I know many of us share.

And here in the U.S., the horrible and horribly predictable nightmare of gun violence provokes a similar set of responses. Last week’s shooting at UCLA hit particularly close to home: My kids were born on that campus, and for many years, we lived right down the street.

But far more upsetting was the fact that a group of New Israel Fund (NIF) leaders and supporters was meeting that morning at the UCLA Hillel, including NIF board member David N. Myers and International Council member Rabbi Sharon Brous. They and our other community members spent hours under lockdown, unsure of what was happening outside. I was texting them as the police searched for the shooter, and of course they were calm, cool and collected, and assured me that all was well.

But even as they presented a brave face to the world, our friends talked about the scourge of gun violence that plagues our country. And in the midst of what had to have been an upsetting ordeal, Brous posted this on her Facebook page: “I’m under lockdown @UCLA. Apparently 2 dead, active shooter at large. Would now be a good time to talk about #gunviolence? #UCLA.”

While it is an imperfect analogy, in many ways, gun violence in America — and the inability to discuss the issue productively, let alone take steps to solve the issue — feels like our intractable problem, our version of the debate in Israel about peace, terror, occupation and the settlement enterprise. In both countries, these are issues that bitterly polarize the population and inflame the debate.

In the U.S. and Israel, politicians who fear powerful lobbies avoid making the hard choices that would help both societies strive for a better, more peaceful future. No one doubts that the extreme settler lobby and the NRA represent minorities of the population, but everyone knows that both groups will stoop to anything to punish politicians who don’t toe the ideological line.

Worse, perhaps, is that both those who insist on the absolute right of anyone to own any gun, and those who propound the sacred need to hold onto every square inch of Israeli territory, base their arguments on what are, to almost all of us, “sacred” texts. We Americans value our Constitution, which includes the Second Amendment, with reverence and with the understanding that it is the one document that holds our heterogeneous, polyglot society together; it is our common political foundation.

As Jews, even if we are secular or liberal in our religious observance, the Torah and Jewish law and tradition occupy that sacred and unifying spot. And of course, the Torah tells us over and over that God has given us the land of Israel, that no other people have rights there and that we may use any means necessary, including violence, to grasp and hold onto that land.

But we are also progressives, and that means we believe societies can and should progress beyond the literal meaning of texts written in other times. We reject the idea that the Founding Fathers meant for every American to have the right to own a semi-automatic rifle with a magazine that holds 30 rounds in our dense urban surroundings. We reject the idea that the particularism of the Torah should be the guiding principle behind how we coexist in Israel with Palestinians, whose roots there are also broad and deep. To embrace the literal meaning of these important texts is to rely on reactionary anachronisms that endanger us all.

It seems to me that we must take a page out of my friend Sharon Brous’ playbook and engage in these discussions now, even when we are emotional and frightened and threatened by the dangers we see around us. In the wake of every public shooting, politicians who are afraid of the gun lobby speak in lockstep about “not exploiting this tragedy as an excuse for gun control.” In the wake of terrorist activity in Israel, or increased anti-Semitism, or new diplomatic maneuvers about multinational conferences, we are cautioned that the unity of the Jewish people and our backing for the policies of the Israeli government must be of paramount importance.

No. It is precisely now, when there is so much at stake and so few safe places — literally and politically — in which we can find refuge, that we must take a stand for our values. We Americans, Jews, Israelis, Palestinians — everyone — deserve safety and equality as citizens. Now is when we must speak out for the vision we share and for the progressive understanding that we as people and societies can and must evolve beyond fear and literalism, into a place that is safer and more peaceful for us and our children. 

Daniel Sokatch is the CEO of New Israel Fund.

Make it happen: Stop the gun violence

Jeb Bush, meet Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

In the immediate aftermath of the Umpqua Community College mass shooting that left 10 people dead, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said something pretty dumb.

“We’re in a difficult time in our country, and I don’t think more government is necessarily the answer to this,” the Republican presidential candidate told the Conservative Leadership Project Presidential Forum in Greenville, S.C. “I think we need to reconnect ourselves with everybody else. I had this challenge as governor. Look, stuff happens. There’s always a crisis, and the impulse is always to do something, and it’s not necessarily the right thing to do.”

“Stuff happens” stuck. Bush meant to say that, in addressing society’s deepest problems, we shouldn’t simply be reactive, but think carefully and act judiciously. But in the wake of a brutal human tragedy, his words came off as a verbal shrug.

Taking time to act deliberately is a sensible position — if we are talking about anything other than mass shootings. The reason Twitter and the media creamed Bush isn’t because we’re all opposed to thinking before we act, but because one more incidence of gun violence in America cannot possibly have come as a surprise.

Guns kill 12,612 people each year in this country — through homicides, suicides and accidents. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, guns claim 35 lives each day in this country. Guns kill Americans at rates far above those in every other developed country. Stuff happens? It happens, it’s been happening, and it will continue to happen day after day, week after week, to our loved ones and our neighbors.

Bush’s response put him in the same category as the Saudi officials who dismissed the stampede deaths of more than 800 pilgrims at the hajj in Mecca as inshallah — “God’s will.”

But if you crowd millions of people in a narrow space without adequate safety regulations, you can expect someone to get trampled. And if you continue to do nothing about guns in America, guess what? Count on more pain, more suffering and more deaths. It’s not in-shallah, it’s in-evitable.

Acting to stop gun violence would be about the least impulsive thing our Congress could do to take on a problem that has festered for decades. But even if officials did act precipitously, that would be an improvement.

In 1996, in the aftermath of Australia’s worst mass shooting, the country’s Conservative Party Prime Minister John Howard pushed through a series of gun laws that critics called draconian, but which had wide popular support. 

A buyback program took 600,000 semi-automatic shotguns and rifles off the streets — about one-fifth of all firearms in circulation. New gun laws prohibited person-to-person sales, all weapons had to be registered to their owners and gun buyers needed a “genuine reason” beyond self-defense to own a gun. (In the U.S., self-defense accounts for 259 justifiable shootings each year — in a country of 300 million guns.)

The result? Australia’s homicide rates declined more than 50 percent, according to the Washington Post, and suicides by guns dropped 65 percent.

For a column I wrote after an earlier mass shooting (this is my third such column), I interviewed Adam Winkler, a professor of law at UCLA and an expert on the Second Amendment. Through sensible gun laws, new technology and other long-proposed measures, he said, we could cut the gun death rate by thousands each year, saving tens of thousands of lives over time.

“You could say you’re just addressing the margins,” Winkler told me, “but those margins are human lives.”

Bush cares as deeply about those lives as you and I do. But he won’t walk back his statement for two reasons: the NRA and Donald Trump. In Election 2016, apologies are for losers.

When I heard Bush’s “stuff happens,” my mind immediately went to Rabbi Heschel. The great theologian’s entire life was a rebuke to the idea that we humans should remain silent in the face of injustice or immobile in the face of suffering. If a single phrase could sum up the opposite of Heschel’s view of our role in this world, it is, “Stuff happens.”

“Who is a Jew?” Rabbi Heschel once asked. “A person whose integrity decays when unmoved by the knowledge of wrong done to other people.” 

Guns are not in themselves wrong, but our policies surrounding them surely are. We need to treat them as we would any other threat to public health and safety. Every day that we don’t act, precipitously or otherwise, we are countenancing a great wrong and ensuring immeasurable pain.

“We have to be able to surpass ourselves,” Heschel wrote, “to outdo the low expectations we have for society, for reality.”

Our Republican and Democratic representatives have sold off their integrity to the gun lobby. We live with low expectations for their ability to change the reality. Isn’t it time we teach them to surpass themselves?

This is not Syria, where there are no good solutions, or climate change, where there are only expensive and uncertain ones. We understand gun control. Australia did it. States with stricter gun laws have fewer gun deaths.

What’s complicated is getting people like me and you off our butts and into the faces of politicians and gun makers, so that we can finally stop this madness. 

Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of Tribe Media Corp./Jewish Journal. 

Unrestricted gun culture needs to stop — now

This past year, I led an after-school class on argument and critical reasoning with a group of gifted eighth-graders in Compton. The final was an in-class debate on gun control. There were passionate arguments on both sides, which is what I’d hoped for, and as the kids prepared, I reminded them that all arguments needed to include evidence. We reviewed what counted as evidence: facts from reputable sources, scientific data, verifiable statistics and even something that you had personally witnessed, as long as it was an incident and not an opinion somebody had expressed.

A bright, friendly kid with spiked hair seemed to realize something. “Does it count as evidence that my family saw someone shot and killed at the park this weekend?” he asked me.

The idea that this kid, whose energy and charm never failed to warm up the classroom, whose family of six includes a 9-year-old national debate champ, an adorable 5-year-old and two of the most devoted parents I’ve ever known, had had to witness a murder just because they went out on a picnic was so horrifying to me that I couldn’t speak.

“It was some guy at another table,” his 10-year-old sister explained, with her usual cheery, dimpled smile, as if the distance of a few feet made it all right. “Somebody just started shooting at him.”

I looked at the other kids in the group, fresh-faced brainiacs so earnest that sometimes I stayed an extra half-hour just because they liked a discussion so much. “Have any of the rest of you ever seen someone shot?”

Out of seven children in that room, only one had not witnessed a shooting.  

One girl had seen a woman shoot and kill her husband in the Food4Less parking lot. Another had seen a guy shot on her street. 

I found myself almost unable to speak. “That’s … unacceptable,” was all I could stammer.

Later that month, as I was teaching a creative-writing workshop at a nearby high school in South L.A., I asked the kids to write about a moment that had been a turning point in their lives. One of the boys, a friendly gossip with a 3.9 GPA, wrote about the time he was in middle school and one of his friends was run over right outside his house when somebody shot the driver of a car — the driver died, the car went out of control and slammed into a nearby tree, killing his 13-year-old friend.  

High-school kids are more in touch with their emotions than my eighth-graders. This time, we had to stop the class. Many of the students lived nearby; many of them remembered the incident. Some of them were nonchalant, but a couple of them were crying. We finished the class with silent writing. It was the only way I could think of to honor what had happened.

And as we all know, just days ago, a young white man walked into a church, prayed for an hour with a group of African-American congregants and then shot nine of them to death. 

We do not live in a war zone. But sometimes it feels as if we do. When are we going to stop the unrestricted access to guns that make this country rife with gang warfare, mass shootings and terrorist hate crimes? 

Why are we willing to live in a country where the gun-related homicide rate is by far the highest in the developed world, more than four times higher than the second-highest country, Switzerland?  Of the 644 million civilian-owned guns in the world, 42 percent belong to Americans.  And though most gun owners say they feel safer with a gun, statistically, those guns don’t protect the owners very well; of the 29,618,300 violent crimes between 2007 and 2011, only .79 percent of the victims protected themselves with a gun or with the threat of using one. 

Dylann Roof, despite being the author of a neo-Nazi website with a white supremacist agenda urging readers to take “drastic action” against Blacks, despite posting racist symbols on Facebook, despite even a recent prior conviction for trespassing and drug possession, was able to walk into a store and, after filling out some paperwork, buy a .45 Glock capable of loading 10 bullets at a time, yet small enough to tuck into his fanny pack. He could easily have bypassed the paperwork just by purchasing the weapon at a gun show, but clearly he correctly assumed that nobody would ever take that background check very seriously.

How many innocent people are going to die before we put a stop to this madness?

We need to enact real gun controls now. We need to demand a country where our children can have a picnic, shop for food or look out their living-room window without witnessing a murder, where their church, synagogue or mosque can be a refuge, not a terrorist site. The pope has stated publicly that gun manufacturers cannot be Christians, because their actions are in defiance of Christian values. I hope we can argue that this bloodshed, and the gun lobby that enables it, and the toothless laws that allow it, and our own inaction, are not consistent with Jewish values, either. We have seen the horrific results of unrestricted gun culture. What are we going to do about it?

Ellie Herman is a writer, teacher and life coach. She blogs at

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Restraining orders on gun possession may be a new way to stop the killing

Two more young people are dead from another school shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Washington this week.  In California we had a mass near-school shooting in Isla Vista only recently.  But there is a new law in California that can help us prevent more shootings like those that took place in recent years and it is critically important that all Californians be aware of this law and how it works. Nancy Skinner and Williams’ Assembly Bill 1014 was signed by Governor Brown just a few weeks ago. It gives us the ability to prevent a psychologically unstable person from killing others or themselves by removing guns from their possession for as long as necessary. AB1014 allows anyone to seek a restraining order to remove firearms from a person who appears to be a threat to himself or others. We need to educate our networks about the new law so that parents, counselors, teachers, and friends of those who possess guns and are seemingly mentally ill will start using it.

Over 1,000 people a day are directly affected by gun violence in the United States.  87 people a day are killed by homicide, suicide, or by an unintentional shooting. Hundreds more are shot and injured, or are victims of assault and armed robbery. 

October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and a time to remember that more than two-thirds of those murdered by their spouses between 1980 and 2008 were killed with guns. By implementing smart gun laws, we can reduce the number of domestic violence incidents that end in firearm-related deaths or injuries. 

The new California bill can save many lives.  It can affect you if you are a parent or friend worried about a young person, if you are someone feeling that your own mental illness, fear, or aggression are causing you to have thoughts about harming others or yourself.      

In California, the law was inspired by the Isla Vista killings, in which a 22 year-old man, Elliot Rodger, killed six people and himself. His parents had tried over and over to seek help for their son. His mother had noticed that he was becoming more agitated and was making threats of violence. Sheriff’s deputies did not check on his gun ownership.  The man himself later stated that if they had checked his room, they might have found his guns. The new law will empower both parents and law enforcement officials to take action to remove guns from dangerous individuals. Often family members or law enforcement do realize the danger ahead of time, and this would enable them to prevent the slaughter.

Many gun owners claim that laws like AB 1014 will not reduce school shootings and that the main issue to deal with is mental illness, not gun ownership. However, statistics show that gun ownership plays a huge role in determining who perpetrates gun violence.  A 2001 UC San Diego study looked specifically at 34 adolescent mass murderers, all male. 70 percent were described as loners, 61.5 percent had problems with substance abuse, 48 percent had preoccupations with weapons, and 43.5 percent had been victims of bullying. Only 23 percent had a documented psychiatric history of any kind―which means three out of four did not. But all carried out their crimes with guns. With AB 1014, even those who do not have a history of documented mental illness can be prevented from harming others as those who know the person can now take effective actions to prevent gun violence.        

AB1014 is a balanced law. It provides protections for the rights of the person against whom the restraining order is sought. The person seeking the restraining order must sign an affidavit under oath.  There must be a hearing within two weeks, at which the gun owner could defend himself. And the restraining order only lasts for a year. If necessary, after that, the process could begin again.

As long as guns are so widely available, and at the same time our mental health system is so porous, there are going to be situations where someone with guns shows signs of using them irrationally, perhaps even planning a massacre. Up to now, parents who saw a danger looming, even parents who called the police to report the danger, were powerless, and so were the police.  But this new law makes it possible to take action, and prevent a tragedy.  Hopefully word will spread, in the mental health community, and among friends and relatives of those who are struggling to maintain their hold on reality.

Laws similar to AB1014 have been passed in three other states, and New York and Washington DC are considering them too.  The rights of gun owners  are not compromised by our being vigilant and using our awareness of danger to prevent gun violence.  Our legislature and governor have given us this new tool, and now it is up to us to use it. Your life and those of your loved ones may depend on it. 


Jane Hirsch is a member of the Gun Violence Prevention Working Group of the National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles.

Letters to the Editor: Women of the Wall, Gun Violence, Angelina Jolie

Words at the Wall

If praying with tallis and tefillin was all that Women of the Wall (WOW) wanted, they would be satisfied with the Sharnsky compromise of a third section for all other forms of Jewish worship (“Stone-Walling,” May 24). If they accepted that, they would also be allowing the Orthodox to have a place where they could pray the way they wanted to. The 2,000-year history of ritual and prayer at the Kotel should be allowed to continue and have its place as well.

This type of “theater” illustrates that it’s not just equality that WOW want, but rather to impose their practices and values on others. This is frighteningly similar to Muslims who want to impose their will on democratic societies.

Adrienne  Eisenberg
Tarzana

I hope every Jewish person comes to the Kotel; every man, woman and child who can get there, comes to the Kotel, regardless of level of frumkeit, age, attire. Come, just come, and maybe when the whole squawking mess of us shows up at the Wall, unable to discern who is enemy and who is friend, we’ll come to realize that we all are Jews and we are all friends; that there has never been the need to fight. Am Yisrael Chai.

Rachel Ann Anolick-Hindarochel
via jewishjournal.com


Tefillin Not for Sharing

I don’t find this exciting at all (“My Grandfather’s Tefillin,” May 24). In my opinion, it’s really a shame and disrespectful. I think we women must remember how holy it feels to have a man that is not equal to us; being the man, they are unique and special.

Doreen Cohanim
via jewishjournal.com


Gun Violence

What’s with the obsession with gun violence (“Scandal!” May 24)?  It’s not even among the 15 leading causes of death in the United States, according to National Vital Statistics Report. It’s down a stunning 49 percent since 1993. 

And according to a recent Gallup poll, most Americans (86 percent) think job creation and economic growth should be Congress’ top priority (gun control is next to last).

Warren Scheinin
Redondo Beach


Advances in Breast Cancer Surgery

Dr. Albert Fuchs’ column on Angelina Jolie’s preventative double mastectomy addressed the difficult issue of breast cancer surgery very well but it’s worth emphasizing an often overlooked aspect — the type of mastectomy performed (“Understanding Angelina,” May 17). The mastectomy that Jolie underwent is not the old-fashioned procedure that leaves a woman with a horrible scar across the chest in place of her breast. This operation, a leftover from the early days of surgery, is gradually being replaced by operations that join the best of plastic surgery with cancer surgery, together known as oncoplastic surgery. These surgeries are proven to accomplish cancer prevention or treatment as effectively without the deformity that destroys the lives of many breast cancer survivors.

Jolie’s surgery, a nipple-sparing mastectomy with implant reconstruction, is just one version of these operations that remove the cancer-forming breast tissue inside the breast but leave the skin and even nipple intact. The volume inside the breast can be replaced with an implant, as in Jolie’s case, or natural fat from elsewhere in the body. As a result, Jolie can look forward to a new life without high risk of developing breast cancer but still have breasts that look and feel normal. The important point for readers of the Journal is that you don’t need to be an A-level actress to access these advanced oncoplastic procedures. Most preventative mastectomies and breast cancer surgeries are amenable to similar surgical techniques, but, like many things in medicine today, it pays to do a little homework and be a more informed patient.  

As doctors involved in the treatment of this heartbreaking disease on a daily basis, we applaud Ms. Jolie opening the discussion and Dr. Fuchs for his informed column.

Dr. Joshua D. I. Ellenhorn, director, Tower Breast Center
Dr. Joel A. Aronowitz, director of plastic surgery, Tower Breast Center


Poetry Men

I may be mistaken but each and every time I pick up the Jewish Journal and there is poetry in your Poem section, the poet just happens to be female. Is there a reason for this bias or is this just the quirkiness of my no longer religiously reading your journal and fortuitously missing the males?

Daniel Goodman 
via e-mail

 
Editor’s Note: In just the last seven issues, the Journal has published the poetry of Tony Barnstone, David Gershator, Jake Marmer and Bill Yarrow. Look them up at jewishjournal.com/poetry and see what you have been missing.


Correction

In the photo caption for “A Match Made in … Israel” (May 17), Nevo Segal is on the left, not the right.

Silencer

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Being American is bad for your health

“Americans are sicker and die younger than people in other wealthy nations.” 

That stark sentence appears in the January 2013 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, and it comes from the authors of a landmark report – “Shorter Lives, Poorer Health” – on differences among high-income countries.

You probably already know that America spends more on healthcare than any other country.  That was one of the few facts to survive the political food fight pretending to be a serious national debate about the Affordable Care Act.

But the airwaves also thrummed with so many sound bites from so many jingoistic know-nothings claiming that America has the best healthcare system in the world that today, most people don’t realize how shockingly damaging it is to your wellness and longevity to be born in the U.S.A.

This is made achingly clear in the study of the “U.S. health disadvantage” recently issued by the National Research Council and the Institute of Medicine, which was conducted over 18 months by experts in medicine and public health, demography, social science, political science, economics, behavioral science and epidemiology. 

Compare the health of the American people with our peer nations – with Britain, Canada and Australia; with Japan; with the Scandinavian countries; with France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Switzerland and the Netherlands.  Side by side with the world’s wealthy democracies, America comes in last, and over the past several decades, it’s only gotten worse.

With few exceptions – like death rates from breast cancer – we suck.  Our newborns are less likely to reach their first birthday, or their fifth birthday.  Our adolescents die at higher rates from car crashes and homicides, and they have the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections.  Americans have the highest incidence of AIDS, the highest obesity rates, the highest diabetes rates among adults 20 and older, the highest rates of chronic lung disease and heart disease and drug-related deaths. 

There is one bright spot.  Americans who live past their 75th birthday have the longest life expectancy.  But for everyone else – from babies to baby boomers and beyond – your chances of living a long life are the butt-ugly worst among all the 17 rich nations in our peer group.

In case you’re tempted to blow off these bleak statistics about American longevity by deciding that they don’t apply to someone like you – before you attribute them to, how shall we put it, the special burdens that our racially and economically diverse and culturally heterogeneous nation has nobly chosen to bear – chew on this: “Even non-Hispanic white adults or those with health insurance, a college education, high incomes, or healthy behaviors appear to be in worse health (e.g., higher infant mortality, higher rates of chronic diseases, lower life expectancy) in the United States than in other high-income countries.”  And by the way, “the nation’s large population of recent immigrants is generally in better health than native-born Americans.”

Why are we trailing so badly?  Some of the causes catalogued by the report:

The U.S. public health and medical care systems:  Our employer- and private insurance-based health care system has long set us apart from our peer nations, who provide universal access.  The right loves to rail against “socialized medicine,” but on health outcomes, the other guys win.

Individual behavior: Tobacco, diet, physical inactivity, alcohol and other drug use and sexual practices play a part, but there’s not a whole lot of evidence that uniquely nails Americans’ behavior. The big exception is injurious behavior.  We loves us our firearms, and we don’t much like wearing seat belts or motorcycle helmets. 

Social factors:  Stark income inequality and poverty separate us from other wealthy nations, who also have more generous safety nets and demonstrate greater social mobility than we do.  In America, the best predictor of good or bad health is the income level of your zip code.

Physical and social environmental factors: Toxins harm us, but our pollution isn’t notably worse than in other rich nations.  The culprit may be our “built environment”: less public transportation, walking and cycling; more cars and car accidents; less access to fresh produce; more marketing and bigger portions of bad food.

Policies and social values:  To me, this is the richest, and riskiest, ground broken by the report, which asks whether there’s a common denominator – upstream, root causes – that help explain why the United States has been losing ground in so many health domains since the 1970s: 

“Certain character attributes of the quintessential American (e.g. dynamism, rugged individualism) are often invoked to explain the nation’s great achievements and perseverance.  Might these same characteristics also be associated with risk-taking and potentially unhealthy behaviors? Are there health implications to Americans’ dislike of outside (e.g., government) interference in personal lives and in business and marketing practices?”

My answer is yes, but I’d plant the problem in recent history and politics, not in timeless quintessentials.  Since the 1980s, in the sunny name of “free enterprise,” there’s been a ferocious, ideologically driven effort to demonize government, roll back regulations, privatize the safety net, stigmatize public assistance, gut public investment, weaken consumer protection, consolidate corporate power, delegitimize science, condemn anti-poverty efforts as “class warfare” and entrust public health to the tender mercies of the marketplace. 

The epidemic of gun violence has been fueled by anti-government paranoia stoked by the gun manufacturers’ lobby, the NRA.  The spike in consumption of high-fructose corn syrup has been driven by the food industry’s business decisions and its political (i.e., financial) clout.  In the name of fiscal conservatism, plutocrats push for cuts in discretionary expenditures on maternal health, early childhood education, social services and public transportation.  The same tactic that once prolonged tobacco’s death grip – the confection of a phony scientific “controversy” – now undermines efforts to combat climate change, which is as big a danger to public health as any disease.

More accidents may be shortening our lifespans.  But we’re not getting sicker by accident.


Marty Kaplan is the Norman Lear professor of entertainment, media and society at the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.  Reach him at martyk@jewishjournal.com.

Reform corrals broad array of groups into gun call-in

The Reform movement corralled a broad array of religious denominations to call into Congress on Monday and demand action on gun violence.

Participant organizations in the “Faiths Calling” event organized by Reform's Religious Action Center include the Reform, Orthodox, Conservative and Reconstructionist streams, as well as mainline and evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Sikh and Muslim groups.

Also included are a number of Jewish public affairs groups.

Callers-in, who may access Congress through the Faiths.org website, are asked to advocate for one or several of four policies: Universal background checks, a ban on semi-automatic assault weapons, making gun trafficking a federal crime and improving access to mental health services.

The breadth of the participation is rare, encompassing liberal and conservative groups.

One of the more conservative groups, the Southern Baptist Convention, sounded a qualified and almost apologetic note in its emailed appeal.

“We believe our representatives do need to hear from people around the country,” said the email from Richard Land, the body's president of its Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. “We encourage you to call as well to tell your congressman and senators what you think should be done. Do you want universal background checks? A ban on semi-automatic guns? A ban on high-capacity magazines? More attention to mental health issues? Or something else?”

USY rally against guns

On Dec. 25, at its international convention in Boston, United Synagogue Youth (USY), the Conservative movement’s 20,000-member youth group, elected Michael Sacks, a senior at Sierra Canyon School in Chatsworth, as its new international president. 

The next day, Sacks and 30 other USY members from the Far West region joined a crowd of more than 1,000 — most of them teenage members of the youth group — in Boston’s Copley Square for a rally to end gun violence.

“It wasn’t a rally for or against gun control or something like that,” Sacks said. “It was a rally against gun violence, which is not a political issue.”

Among the speakers at the Dec. 26 rally were Colin Goddard, 27, who was shot four times in the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech and now works for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Pastor Corey Brooks, who leads a nondenominational Christian church in Chicago and spent 130 days in 2012 walking from New York to Los Angeles in an effort to draw attention to the gun violence endemic to inner cities. 

Sacks, 18, is a member of Temple Aliyah in Woodland Hills and is also president of USY’s Far West region, which includes Southern California, Arizona, Southern Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Hawaii. The first member of the region in 15 years to become USY’s top youth officer, Sacks said he believes Conservative youth are joining the Jewish community in taking a strong stand against gun violence. 

“This is a problem that is affecting our youth,” he said, “and our youth is taking action to make sure it isn’t a problem in the future.”

Briefs

 

OU Reaches Out to Deaf Community

The Orthodox Union’s deaf outreach came to Long Beach for a Shabbaton gathering of the deaf and their families, a small event that meant a lot to the often-isolated Orthodox deaf community.

“There wasn’t a big turnout, but I think that it’s really necessary; when you have a deaf child who’s Jewish, there’s a smaller population,” said Jo Cooperman, who drove up from San Diego County with her 3-year-old deaf son, Jadyn Avram. “He always comes back really, really happy from these things. It has a wonderful effect on his self-esteem and his identification with Jews, with deaf Jews.”

Long Beach’s Congregation Lubavitch hosted about 30 deaf adults and children and their families at the OU’s Jan. 7-8 “Our Way” Shabbaton. Long Beach attorney Allen Sragow, who put up about 10 “Our Way” attendees at his house, sponsored the small Orthodox Union agency’s fourth annual Southern California gathering. Organizers said last weekend’s heavy rain cut into the attendance level.

“It’s always a fresh perspective for me to see the Jewish deaf, how they’ve come to understand their interaction with Jewish life,” said Jan Moore, a North Hollywood optometrist who has two deaf sons. His teenage daughter, who can hear, came to Long Beach with two of her Valley Torah High School classmates so the trio could support deaf children and their hearing siblings.

Flying into Los Angeles to lead the “Our Way” Shabbaton was Rabbi Eliezer Lederfeind, who is not deaf, but is the son of deaf parents and lives in Brooklyn with his own six children – including deaf daughters Lida, 13, and Toby, 18. Both have cochlear implants allowing them to hear.

Lida Lederfeind told The Journal in a telephone interview, “I feel like I’m part of everything.”

Every two months, Lida’s father travels to Orthodox deaf enclaves around the country to conduct an “Our Way” Shabbaton.

“More and more deaf youth are Orthodox. They should be able to mainstream in a shul,” said Lederfeind, who oversaw the “Our Way” group’s spirited – and at times humorous – deaf dialogue about Israel in the Lubavitch shul’s small study.

When Lederfeind asked what was the sign language gesture to describe the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, someone jokingly responded: “It’s a sign that you can’t use in public.” – David Finnigan, Contributing Writer

Israel ‘Line of Fire’ Program Comes to UJ

An armed Israeli attack helicopter spots a Palestinian ambulance on the road below. Aware that such ambulances have been used to transport terrorists and weapons, the pilot checks with his ground controller whether to strafe and destroy the vehicle. Pilot and controller talk back and forth, weighing whether the ambulance is more likely to carry weapons or sick people. When the vehicle finally pulls up to a hospital, they decide to give it the benefit of the doubt and call off the attack.

The dramatic, real-life incident, with actual footage of the chase taken from the cockpit, will be a highlight of the Jan. 20 event, titled “Air Force in the Line of Fire.”

Israeli and American helicopter fighter pilots will discuss the moral choices facing them during combat missions in the airspace above Israel and Iraq.

Panelists will also speak about the dangers and fears of combat, new weaponry, Israeli-American military cooperation and the future of the Israeli air force. A Q-and-A period will follow.

Speakers will include reserve Maj. Gen. Nehemia Dagan, founder of Israel’s attack helicopter strike forces; two other veteran Israeli combat pilots; and Col. Bill Morris of the Pentagon, former assault helicopter commander in the 101st Airborne Division.

The event, in English, will start at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Judaism, sponsored by the Council of the Israeli Community (CIC) and 12 other local organizations. The CIC is a support organization for the State of Israel and the estimated 100,000 Israelis living in the Los Angeles area, said Chaim Linder, the group’s first vice president.

General tickets for the Jan. 20 event are $10 (CIC members) and $12 (general); reserved seats, $25; reception with the pilots and one reserved seat, $50.

For reservations and information, call (818) 342-7241. – Tom Tugend, Contributing Editor

Court: NVJCC Familes Can Sue Gun Companies

Three families, whose children were shot in the 1999 attack on the North Valley Jewish Community Center (NVJCC), can pursue their lawsuit against the companies that made the weapons used in the shooting spree.

The U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 10 let stand a ruling by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that the suit could go to trial and declined to hear an appeal for dismissal by two gun manufacturers and two distributors.

The suit grew out of the Aug. 10, 1999, attack by Buford O. Furrow, Jr., a self-avowed anti-Semite and white supremacist on the NVJCC in Granada Hills, which left three teenagers, one adult and three children wounded.

Lead plaintiff in the suit is the mother of Joseph S. Ileto, a Filipino-American postal carrier, who was killed by Furrow the same day in a separate attack.

Last May in San Francisco, the full 26-member appeals court, in a split decision, confirmed that the case could be tried. At the time, Donna Finkelstein, whose then 16-year-old daughter Mindy suffered two gunshot wounds to her leg, told The Journal, “I am so elated that we are finally moving forward.”

Similar sentiments were expressed by Alan Stepakoff and Loren Lieb, whose then 6-year-old son, Joshua Stepakoff, was also shot in the leg.

Also participating in the suit are Eleanor and Charles Kadish, whose son Benjamin, then 5, was the most seriously injured, with gunshots to his stomach and legs.

Among the large cache of weapons found in Furrow’s car were an Austrian-made Glock 9-mm handgun and a 9-mm rifle, made by North China Industries, both manufacturers are defendants in the suit.

In filing the original suit more than four years ago, attorney Joshua Horwitz of the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence said that Furrow, a convicted felon with a history of mental instability, should not have been allowed to build an arsenal of assault-style weapons.

“It is not enough to let guns go out of your factory door and say, ‘Sorry, we don’t know where they’re headed,'”Horwitz said.

The case will now return to the U.S. district court in Los Angeles for trial.

Congressional legislation which would have barred lawsuits targeting the gun industry failed last spring. – TT

 

Flip Side of Gun Debate

This week the debate over gun control — already not a model of civil democratic dialogue — reached new depths when the National Rifle Association (NRA) accused President Bill Clinton of tolerating gun violence to further his own narrow political ends.

The White House denounced the NRA’s “sick rhetoric”; even some Republicans normally sympathetic to the pro-gun group seemed aghast.

A few Jewish groups jumped to Clinton’s defense, including the Union of American Hebrew Congregations (UAHC), which has made gun control a centerpiece of its domestic agenda.

That prompted a broadside from Aaron Zelman, director of the militantly pro-gun group Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO). Zelman said he expects Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the UAHC president, to “join the others dancing on the graves of murder victims to achieve the political goal of preventing people from defending themselves.”

UAHC’s strong position clearly reflects the views of a Jewish majority.

But the Reform group and the other Jewish organizations that have waded into the gun control swamp are revealingly quiet about the other part of the equation: the pervasive, graphic, unrestrained violence in everything from television movies to video games that the experts say has combined with the easy availability of guns to produce the acts of violence that have horrified the nation.

The reasons for that reticence tell a sobering story about how hard it will be to use public policy to go beyond Band-Aid solutions in the fight against gun violence.

One factor is that Jewish groups fear government remedies for violence in the popular media are likely to be ineffective and may have constitutionally catastrophic side effects.

Making it harder for criminals to get guns is something that can be translated into concrete legislation; making it harder for kids to have access to televised savagery does not lend itself to straightforward legislative responses, and it opens a constitutional can of worms civil liberties advocates would prefer remained closed.

Rabbi David Saperstein, head of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and a leader in the renewed push for tougher gun control, argued that he and others have spoken out about the cultural dimension, but that “we ought to be speaking even more.”

But it’s difficult to imagine government policy that won’t run afoul of constitutional protections, he said — protections that have always been a political article of faith for American Jews.

Secondly, many Jews are uncomfortable with the groups that have made the issue of media violence just another front in their much broader “culture wars.”

The issue has been largely monopolized by religious right leaders who seem more eager to use it to discredit liberalism than to find solutions.

Many of the Christian crusaders, Jews fear, want to censor a broad range of ideas not to their liking, not just images of violence. Today, it’s bloody video games, but tomorrow it may be non-Christian ideas.

And Jewish groups tend to see the problem of children’s access to objectionable materials as a matter for families, not governments. Ironically, this time it’s the right that wants the heavy hand of government in our lives — and Jewish groups worry about the broader implications of that desire.

There’s also uncertainty over the issue of Jewish involvement in the entertainment industry.

Can we address the question of runaway violence in the media without calling attention to the members of our own community who are top players in the industry? Won’t our criticisms be used by the anti-Semites as confirmation of their outrageous claims of Jewish control?

Cumulatively, these factors have put Jewish leaders in a bind. They recognize that the cultural factors work together with the flood of guns to produce horrific violence. But in their public activism they feel most comfortable focusing on the gun part of the equation.

But in doing so, they forfeit the game to those who will not be nearly as respectful of the First Amendment.

That could be slowly changing.

Sen. Joseph Lieberman (D-Conn.) has persistently raised the issue; Lieberman, widely respected across political and denominational lines in the Jewish community, has had a receptive audience.

At the recent plenum of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, media critic and leading conservative Michael Medved talked about the relationship between violence in the media and mayhem in our streets and was well received, despite the strongly liberal slant of the group.

Last week the Orthodox Union weighed in with support for a series of gun control proposals by New York Gov. George Pataki. At the same time, the group has been speaking with growing vigor about violence in the media and its effect on our culture.

“Gun control is easier, because people see what they can do,” said Reva Price, JCPA’s Washington representative. “It’s much harder to see solutions in terms of the cultural issues, and it’s easy to see the dangers.”

Still, she said, “people in our organization and others are starting to talk about it. It’s no longer something we can ignore.”