In announcing executive action to reduce gun violence across the nation last week, President Barack Obama called for balancing Second Amendment gun rights with other liberties. As he did so, he recited a litany of those whose elementary rights were taken away by gun violence: The “right to worship freely and safely … was denied to Christians in Charleston, S.C., and that was denied to Jews in Kansas City, and that was denied to Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek,” the president said. “They had rights too.”
That simple truth has been lost in the endless debate over gun safety and gun rights. The president’s attempt to close some loopholes in existing law through a package of executive orders hardly justifies the “Obama wants your guns” frenzy that has greeted the announcement. A major provision of the package requires those who sell guns on the Internet and at gun shows to be licensed and to conduct background checks on prospective buyers, a position with which 80 percent of Americans agree.
A number of Jewish organizations have announced support of the president’s action. We commend the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism and Jewish Women International for speaking out, and we add our voice to theirs. We encourage more Jewish groups — which seem to have a position on every issue great and small — to take a stand in favor of this one. At the end of the day, we should all stand firmly behind policies that will make our country safer.
The president’s move was sensible and certainly within his prerogatives. While there is a clear constitutional right to own guns, that doesn’t mean the government doesn’t have an interest in keeping weapons out of the hands of killers. One of the fundamental rights we have as Americans and as people is life. We challenge Congress to get serious about gun reform with that right in mind.