I am still reeling from Orlando. Even though mass shootings have become all too common in this country, something seemed different about this attack.
I was struck not only by the sheer scale — 49 were fatally shot during Omar Mateen’s rampage, making it the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history — but also by how many of society’s thorniest issues collided in the wake of the slaughter in the Pulse nightclub. Homophobia, Islamophobia, radical Islamic terror, national security and even the contentious presidential election are lenses through which one could interpret what happened.
But more than anything, Orlando pointed up America’s paralysis when it comes to solving the gun violence crisis. Guns have killed more Americans than all our wars combined, and Congress has done nothing. If the murder of 20 children (and six staff members) at Sandy Hook Elementary School three years ago inspired no action, I figured nothing would.
Now if I were king, I would ban assault rifles, handguns and ammunition, shut down gun manufacturers, outlaw hunting and make vegetarianism mandatory. And I would also throw the Second Amendment onto the Constitutional scrap heap. Too much? OK, how about this? If you want to own a gun you must jump through so many annoying bureaucratic hoops, you’ll probably just give up. Cry me a river.
Obviously I’m a proud anti-gun nut. And now, judging by the overwhelming outrage after last week’s carnage, I am hopeful society has reached a tipping point.
After Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech (32 killed) and San Bernardino (14) and Fort Hood (13) and now Orlando, and so many other mass shootings, people are angry, and their elected representatives have gotten the message. Sort of. Mere days after the Orlando massacre, a successful bipartisan filibuster in the Senate opened the door to votes on four amendments calling for expanded background checks and more vigorous investigations of potential gun-buyers who might be on terrorism watch lists and/or no-fly lists.
But on June 20, all four amendments went down to defeat, thanks to the NRA’s congressional lackeys.
At least national Jewish organizations of all denominational stripes have jumped up and spoken out.
Take for example Rabbis Against Gun Violence, a grassroots organization launched in February by Rabbi Menachem Creditor of Congregation Netivot Shalom in Berkeley and a handful of rabbis across the country. With more than 1,000 members, it has become a powerful Jewish voice for action, and never more so than in the wake of Orlando.
It might seem odd coming from a spiritual leader, but Creditor said, “I’m done composing prayers” when it came to responding to the shooting spree. Instead, his organization has trained its sights on the National Rifle Association and its influence over Congress. As Creditor told the Times of Israel last week, “We have to vote out of office anyone who votes with the NRA.”
Jewish organizations from the mainstream also have spoken out. The Rabbinical Assembly, the rabbinic arm of the Conservative movement, demanded Congress pass “common-sense gun legislation,” citing the injunction from Leviticus, “Lo ta’amod al dam re’eikha” — do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor.
I have met only one person who was the victim of gun violence. He was a co-worker at least 30 years ago, so I don’t remember his name or precise circumstances, though I’m pretty sure he had been an innocent bystander at a robbery. He was shot in the arm — though it wasn’t quite like all the superhero TV cops who just shrug off their flesh wounds and carry on taking out bad guys. What I remember is that this coworker’s arm had been rendered useless and that he was in pain every minute of every day. Yes, he was moving on with life, but he was never going to be the same.
Two weeks ago, a would-be jihadist formerly on an FBI watch list bought an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, no questions asked. A few days later, the apparently closeted gay man stayed late at the gay nightclub he had been frequenting for years, and without warning began mowing down people like stalks of wheat. It became a national trauma that may, in time, God willing, bring about the changes we need to make sure such nightmares never happen again.
In Deuteronomy, HaShem says, “I have put before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore, choose life, that you and your children may live.”