As we reel from the unspeakable evils that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School last friday, the country is left questioning some of the fundamental blocks upon which our communities are built. “Safety,” “freedom,” and “rights,” are words we’re likely to hear over the coming weeks, part of a growing “national conversation” (whatever that means) around our country’s seemingly incurable addiction to guns; devices whose sole purpose is to end life.
Guns are an issue that arouse passions across the political spectrum. But, in the shadow of a tragedy the lasting effects of which we cannot begin to fathom, elected officials, lead by some of the countries most visible Jewish politicians, are beginning to align – and in some cases, re-align – around what was once thought to be the third-rail of American politics: Gun control. (Ruby Cramer has a fantastic breakdown of the political calculus behind this alignment over at Buzzfeed) .
There is a growing chorus of voices speaking out against the unchecked proliferation of firearms. But, channel-hopping through the Sunday morning talk shows, one can’t help but notice the voices heard first, and loudest, belong to Jews (A fact not lost on The Jewish Daily Forward, either.) Yesterday on NBC’s “Meet The Press,” just minutes after outgoing New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg (I) railed against the President for not doing enough to curb guns, Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) announced that she would be introducing legislation to “ban the sale, the transfer, the importation and the possession” of assault weapons. Just few channels away, Feinstein’s east coast colleague Chuck Schumer (D-NY) seemed to echo her sentiment on CBS’ “Face The Nation,” saying “I think we can get something done.” And on “Fox and Friends,” Connecticut’s independent senator Joe Lieberman called for a reinstatement of the Federal Assault Weapon Ban, which expired in 2004.
It’s no secret that American Jewry is traditionally anti-gun (or, at least not explicitely pro-gun.) There exists a broad, though by no means universal, feeling that guns are treyf. Un-kosher. Not Jewish. Even editorials calling for more Jewish gun ownership begin with admissions to that effect. But, never before has this sentiment felt as immediate as it does in the aftermath of Sandy Hook: A tragedy that feels both frustratingly familiar, and achingly new at the same time.
There may be no single root cause for this Jewish aversion to firearms in the US. Likely it’s a fluid interplay between the historical after-effects of living in Eastern Europe for centuries without political (and therefor military) representation; biblical and talmudic efforts to diminish unchecked violence, focusing instead on issues of social justice, education and commerce; and the broader trend of American Jewry’s gravitation toward socially liberal issues in general.
Regardless of the reasons, The nation as a whole is currently grappling with a tragedy – one which has forced us to examine the role firearms play in our lives and communities. And, while many of those speaking out have been Jewish, this is by no means a Jewish issue. Rather, it seems as if the country is beginning to finally give serious thought to sometime that’s long been part of the mainstream American Jewish experience – The idea that power over life and death is a responsibility, not a right. And, when an instrument is designed to do nothing but kill, it is our responsibility to be silent no more.
Cover image via The Daily Beast