Ban assault weapons

I cannot know what the parents of the 15 students or two teachers killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are feeling now.

The parents of the 20 children and six staff members killed at Sandy Hook in 2012 do.

And so do the parents of students killed at other, smaller-scale school shootings, and of victims at malls and movie theaters and nightclubs.

But I do know what it feels like to be the parent of a dead child and dear readers, I desperately hope that none of you ever has to know what I know. Ever.

Let me tell you just a little of what it feels like, although of course words fail. It is black misery. It is being at the bottom of an airless, lightless, slime-lined hole, where you feel that you never will be able to breathe again, never will be able to see again, never will be clean again, and you can’t imagine ever caring about any of those things again.

It is a feeling of utter hopelessness, of complete despair, of the certain knowledge that nothing you’ve ever believed was true, that even the most solid ground you’ve ever walked on was an illusion, and that hell, the black slime pit, was just beneath it all along, waiting for you.

And then that feeling sometimes turns into red-hot, blue-hot, melting rage.

But my daughter, my beloved Shira, died by accident, at the hands of a careless driver on a confusing traffic circle. No one wanted her dead.

My husband and I know that we don’t feel what parents of children dead of disease or substance abuse or mental illness or suicide feel. Each of us has our own special and specific and distinct hell.

But the deaths of children slaughtered by someone who wanted them dead? And not even dead for themselves, because of who they were, but as bit players in their killers’ own horrific psychodramas? As real-life Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns?

It is unthinkable.

There is one advantage that those parents have, however. They can take their rage and aim it. There is a real target. They, like the extraordinary student survivors whose outrage has encouraged us all, can work toward change.

They all can work to rid this country of the scourge of assault weapons.

Yes, everyone says it can’t be done — but no, actually, it used to be that everyone said that it can’t be done. There seems, finally, to be some movement on the issue, although it easily could stall out and certainly it is not worth the price those murdered students and teachers and their families and friends have to pay for it.

Second Amendment, Second Amendment, Second Amendment, we are told, as if the Second Amendment to the Constitution, which reads, in its entirety, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” leads inexorably to the bloody slaughter of innocents. And really, what can we do? It’s in the Constitution!

But the demand that 18th century Americans have the right to keep and bear arms in order to assure the health of a well regulated militia seems not to have much to do with the right of a deranged 19-year-old to burst into his old school — from which he’d been expelled because he was frightening, and because the school had no good way to deal with him, because we haven’t devoted many resources to figuring out how to handle lost, damaged, dangerous people like this one — and kill anyone he saw.

The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, into a world without assault weapons.

It is safe to say that the Founding Fathers never imagined what their words would be twisted to allow.

We as Jews are familiar with the idea of halacha as coming from Torah laws, but as having been changed and adapted, often almost beyond easy recognition, to fit the circumstances in which the Jews who lived by them found themselves. To use just an obvious example, the path from not cooking a kid in its mother’s milk to the elaborate rules governing kashrut is circuitous, although the goal — to fulfill God’s law by eating in a way that accepts that everything we eat comes from somewhere, and that we take the life we need to allow ours to continue comes at a real cost, and must be done with respect and intent — is clear.

The Constitution and Bill of Rights, similarly, underlie all our laws, at least in theory, but without the idea that there is some guiding divine will behind them.

To have allowed the Second Amendment to warp into being seen as the right to keep and bear assault weapons seems to contradict the Declaration of Independence’s demand that each of us Americans is entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Tell that to the bereaved parents, whose ability to pursue happiness ended when their children’s right to life was ended.

This is not what our Founding Fathers intended.

About the Author
Joanne is the editor of the Jewish Standard and lives in Manhattan with her husband and two dogs, so she has firsthand knowledge of two thriving and idiosyncratic Jewish communities. (Actually that's three communities, if you also count the dog people.)
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