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Menachem Creditor

Elusive Freedom: One Year After Highland Park

One year ago in Highland Park, Illinois, six people were killed and 24 were injured during a July 4th parade, highlighting yet again the pressing issue of gun violence in America. Those mass shootings, along with several others that occurred on the same day across different cities, served as a grim reminder of the deeper disease plaguing the nation. Despite some advances, notably the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act passed by Congress almost a year ago, little has changed in America’s attitudes toward guns. National discussions about gun violence are not easy, primarily due to two things: conflicting cultural perspectives and lobbying efforts by gun manufacturers, often implemented by the National Rifle Association (including efforts to prohibit the government from conducting comprehensive research on American gun violence). Nevertheless, it is crucial to address this issue as gun violence is costing countless lives annually, posing a threat to the freedom and safety of Americans.

Gun violence in the United States is a reflection of a broader issue deeply rooted in society. The nation’s obsession with firearms and seeming willingness to have residents of every age slaughtered in every setting are well-known globally. Mass shootings have become alarmingly common, and sadly, they no longer capture the nation’s attention as they should. What truly (albeit temporarily) captured attention on July 4, 2022 was that an Illinois celebration of American freedom was desecrated by violence. The prevalence of gun violence and the lack of substantial change following such incidents raise questions about the American society’s perception of firearms. And about the nature of American freedom.

The urgency of addressing this issue is evident, particularly in light of recent Supreme Court rulings on open carry laws, including the Court’s 2022 decision, declaring open carry as constitutional and limiting previous related restrictions in New York, raising concerns about public safety. The shocking existence of bulletproof backpacks for sale only further highlights the pervasiveness of gun violence and the need for change.

The scale of gun violence in America is staggering. Although comprehensive data collection on gun violence as a health epidemic remains restricted, organizations like Everytown for Gun Safety & the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence work diligently to provide clear statistics. Annually, an estimated 40,000+ lives are lost in the United States due to gun violence. Shockingly, this figure includes approximately 60% suicides, indicating the need for mental health support and effective gun control measures. The accessibility of firearms contributes to this grave issue, leading to tragic outcomes that could have been prevented.

True freedom cannot exist when individuals fear for their safety in schools, movie theaters, places of worship, or public gatherings. The normalization of gun violence poses a significant threat to personal security and hampers the nation’s progress. The shocking existence that bulletproof backpacks are commercially available on platforms like Amazon exemplifies the extent to which the American society has adapted to this reality. It is a stark reminder that genuine freedom cannot coexist with the constant risk of violence.

If we are to truly become free, then we must confront the American epidemic of gun violence that plagues our nation. The alarming frequency of mass shootings and the devastating toll they take on innocent lives and our children’s mental health underscore the urgent need for change. Drawing upon the wisdom of Torah, we are reminded of our responsibility as a community to address the root causes of gun violence and strive for a society where all individuals can live without fear. As it is written in the Torah, “Those who touch the corpse of any human being shall be impure for seven days. (Num. 19:11)” We are all touched by this death, implicated in its ongoing impact. The stain of American gun violence affects us all, compelling us to come together, raise our voices, and work towards a future where actual freedom prevails.

About the Author
Rabbi Menachem Creditor serves as the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at UJA-Federation New York and was the founder of Rabbis Against Gun Violence. An acclaimed author, scholar, and speaker with over 2 million views of his online videos and essays, he was named by Newsweek as one of the fifty most influential rabbis in America. His 31 books and 6 albums of original music include "A Year of Torah," the global anthem "Olam Chesed Yibaneh" and the COVID-era 2-volume anthology "When We Turned Within." He and his wife Neshama Carlebach live in New York, where they are raising their five children.
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