I have held a gun twice in my life.
The first time was when I was a sixteen year old visitor to Israel. We spent a week on an army base, and although it was against the rules, I posed for a picture with a gun in my hands. I know where that picture is, and I know which cute Israeli soldier I was trying to impress. But I didn’t shoot it, it was just a prop.
The second time was when I was in college. I went to school in Iowa, and one of the guys in my dorm was a recent Vietnam vet. One Sunday afternoon, he invited a few of us over to his house out in the country, and after a big Sunday dinner, we went into the back yard. He set up empty milk cartons or something, took out his military rifle (I don’t remember why he still had one) and had each of us try to knock the targets off the fence. I held the gun. But I didn’t shoot it; I gave it back.
I am beyond heartbroken from what happened in Newtown last week. Some of my more talented friends have written songs, poetry, or passionate prose. I’ve been too angry. I’ve been too livid. So, in trying to calm down, I turn to Jewish text and teaching. What do I see?
I see, “It is not up to you to finish the task, but neither are you released from beginning it.” (Pirke Avot)
I see, “I am praying with my feet.” (Abraham Joshua Heschel, when speaking about his involvement with the Civil Rights marches)
I see, “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor” (Leviticus)
There are many posts going around, demanding action. So we sign petitions, watch videos, share Facebook links, and more. And I’ve done all that, too. But I’m just left with this overwhelming frustration at the insanity of how we got here, and how much death it’s taking us as a nation to get out of here.
Simply put, there is absolutely no reason for anyone but military and law enforcement personnel to own semi-automatic rifles. They have no purpose but to kill people. None. Stop making them, stop selling them. If this is your chosen income, find another one. You are dealing in death, no less so than drug dealers. I may not understand hunting, but I know hunters, and they don’t hunt with these – it’s not sporting, whatever that means. There is also no reason for any individual to be ordering by mail, or purchasing in person, hundreds of rounds of ammunition. That is a huge red flag, and there needs to be in place, information-sharing on this sort of trafficking. And there is no reason why prisons should serve as mental health facilities. We may not be able to silence the demons in people’s heads, but we sure as hell can stop those people from owning instruments of death. We register bicycles. We register pets. What, we can’t register guns without some alarmist screaming about the slippery slope that will take away the right to bear arms? How about the right not to bury our children? We who hold bar owners responsible for overserving a patron if s/he goes out and kills someone in a drunk driving accident. Whom are holding responsible for gun violence? No one. And more parents cry.
There is more to write. There are arguments to present, there are debates to engage. But you have to do something, SOMETHING! Three thousand people died on Sept. 11 and suddenly, all across the country, travelling behavior changed. Did anyone get far with the argument that our individual rights were being violated? Or did the sanctity of life take precedence? Well, what the hell are our leaders waiting for? More to the point, what are you and I waiting for.
The elected officials who are beholden to the gun lobbyists are cowards. They have put their own political careers ahead of American lives every single day, and they need to be held accountable. There are more of us than there are of them. Make your voice heard. We have changed the country before. And don’t be swayed by the idea of “Well, Congress has enough on its plate, too much to take on another thing.” Hey. I can multi-task. I can work on more than one project at a time. If they can’t, they shouldn’t be working for us. Period.
Others have written soothing words of comfort. I’m glad they have, but I can’t. I can only feel desperate panic and grief. Fear and frustration. Judaism teaches me to make the world a better place. Judaism teaches me I am a partner with God in creation. Judaism teaches me one person matters. Judaism teaches me that there is a way to live in community, and this is not what we’ve been doing. To hell with the politics. “Lobby-pests” -get over your self-righteous, irrelevant, obscene obsession with perpetuating a myth that only keeps you in money and power. Shame on you for letting the conversation go off course. No more. The emperor’s clothes are gone, there is no wizard behind that curtain; it’s only the weak and misguided. Harsh words? Yeah, well you try burying a baby – see how harsh that is.
Just stop the killing. Now. Begin Now.