Schechter to president, Congress: ‘Erect meaningful fences’ around weapons
(Editor’s note: The following is taken from a Dec. 20 open letter to President Obama and the Members of Congress. It was sent on behalf of 30 Jewish day schools around the country, under letterhead of the Schechter Day School Network, and carries the names of 55 “rabbis, educators and community leaders,” including Community Day School Head of School Avi Baran Munro and CDS President Howard Valinsky. The educators plan to hold follow-up meetings with lawmakers in January.)
We are moved to write to you by the heartbreaking tragedy in Newtown, Conn. As far as we know, that tragedy was the work of a deranged young man whose sickness blinded him to the moral and ethical implications of his actions. But whatever his motives, the killer’s rampage was only possible because we as a society have made it so easy for people like him to obtain military-style guns and ammunition legally, cheaply and easily.
Many commentators have called this a political failure, which it may be, but we believe it is, first and foremost, a moral failure.
The Torah teaches us that when we live in a community, we must actively work to prevent harm to others. Deuteronomy 22:8 tells us that if we build a new house, we must build a railing on the roof, lest someone fall off and get hurt — literally, “so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone should fall from it.”
The Talmud extends this notion to other dangerous things within our control, such as violent dogs, which must be kept on a chain lest they hurt someone. (Bava Kamma 15b, 79b; Choshen Mishpat 409:3)
Guns are no exception; indeed, the Talmud tells us that we must make every effort to ensure that we do not put dangerous weapons into the hands of would-be criminals. (Avodah Zarah 15b)
The Talmud assigns responsibility for public safety to a community’s officials. Commenting on the passage in Deuteronomy 21:7, “And [the elders of the town] shall make this declaration: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done,’” the Mishnah asks, “Would it have occurred to us that the elders of the court are murderers? Rather, [the meaning of the declaration is] he didn’t come in contact with us and we sent him away without food, and we didn’t see him and send him away without an escort.” (Sotah 46b)
To be sure, when that sick young man in Connecticut picked up guns that had been legally obtained, the ensuing blood that was shed was on his hands. But it is also on our hands, because we allowed a murderer easy, legal access to weapons that are especially lethal. It is on our hands because we failed to build adequate fences around things that we knew were dangerous, as the Torah commands us.
We respect that the Constitution protects a citizen’s right to bear arms to defend against tyranny; indeed, the Torah commands us to defend ourselves against those who would kill us. For too long, however, we have equated protecting against would-be tyrants with virtually unfettered access to military-style guns and ammunition. The Shulchan Aruch, the great codification of Jewish law, reminds us that this equation is not correct. Rather, we must balance access to weapons against our obligation to protect lives: “And for every stumbling block that is a danger to someone’s life, there is a positive commandment to remove it and to destroy it from among us and to take good caution; as it says: ‘You shall guard your lives.’ ” (Deuteronomy 4:9)
In memory of the children, teachers and administrators murdered in Newtown, and in service to the thousands of children and teachers who are our daily responsibility, we beg you to take up immediate and definitive legislation that will erect meaningful fences around dangerous weapons that kill indiscriminately. It is up to you to undertake this ethical and moral imperative to remove and destroy these stumbling blocks, in order to fulfill the Torah’s instruction that we should bring no more bloodguilt on our houses.
New doorways the fix
Everyone agrees that we should do more to prevent mass murders, but they are failing to see the obvious remedy, which might eliminate most of the problem.
Yes, a wacko with a gun killed a lot of innocent people [in Newtown, Conn.], but he sought a target where many people were gathered, and he had relatively easy access to that place with his weapon. It is the entrances, which are not sufficiently secure, that allow these atrocities to continue.
We need a review of all the massacres regarding the entrance security in order to identify what was basically wrong with security at these venues.
Then we need a national contest to design entrances, which would foil most, if not all, the known atrocities.
Then schools and other public venues can install more secure entrances so that we can see if that eliminates the problem.
New doors, etc., are a lot cheaper than putting an armed guard at every school entrance for nine months.
Some people are talking better gun control, and others are talking about registering the suspected wackos. As we pursue those potential remedies, we can look forward to 15 more years of arguing the constitutional right to bear arms, and to privacy. Nobody would argue against better entrance (and exit) security.
Guns do not kill people, people do. Gun control is not broken so don’t fix it. Even if no one were allowed to own a gun, the bad guys would still have them. More important, the people who sell those guns to the bad guys don’t care if a wacko buys them so long as the wacko pays in cash.
Fix what is known to be defective before getting bogged down with constitutional issues.