B. Shira Levine
Navigating new wilderness

Yes, now is the time to talk about gun control

You heard me – let’s talk about gun control.  And let’s do it right now.

I’m coming out of my hiatus from politics to address this, and don’t come at me with “politicizing a tragedy” finger-wagging–because to accord the proper respect to this tragedy’s victims, now is the best time to talk about guns.  Advocates of reasonable gun restrictions, do not be discouraged and do not be silenced.  Do not let the gun lobby manipulate you into hopelessness or muzzle you with shame.  Even if you think it would take a miracle to chip away at the NRA armor that stands between us and reasonable gun policy, stand up and be counted.

With increasing frequency and severity, guns have been used to perpetrate random violence in this country.   And in most cases, the gunman or gunmen took and destroyed lives with guns obtained them legally.  This happened most recently and most devastatingly this week in Las Vegas–a city practically pompous in its lack of gun restrictions and availability of automatic weapons and an unsurprising site of the highest-casualty gun incident in U.S. history.

Are you shocked by criticism of Las Vegas gun policy so soon?  Because Las Vegas is mourning?  Because doing so is insensitive to the victims?  With all due respect, I beg to differ.

When someone is killed, the absolute first thing to be done is to bring the perpetrator to justice.  That is the best way to honor the victim.  Law enforcement doesn’t wait for a murder victim’s family to be done mourning before investigating–including asking insensitive questions of the victim’s family if needed.  Why?  Because the hours following a tragic incident are absolutely key to determining the causes and parties responsible.  The longer an investigation languishes, the less likely anyone will be prosecuted or brought to justice for the crime.

Lots of people won’t like my analogy comparing “lax gun laws” to murderers.  I stand by it.  Many people have acted–and thrown substantial money–to oppose any and all restrictions on gun ownership, reflexively and in the immediate wake of unthinkable tragedy.  The same occurs when legislation or regulations are proposed without obvious reactionary connection–the timing matters absolutely naught to the pro-gun community, who are absolutely unmoved by the deaths of innocents–nothing will temper their extreme views.

While reasonable people can differ on what constitutes “reasonable gun restrictions,” a significant majority of the American people believe that the current restrictions are not enough.  But a significant majority of that significant majority has all but capitulated to the politically powerful gun lobby, having sustained gut punch after gut punch–not only have measures inspired by the brutal gunning down of kindergartners failed, but in some cases restrictions have been removed because of the NRA’s fearmongering/brainwashing, sophisticated organization, and seemingly infinite funding.

A thoughtful person might conclude, well, if all our efforts to make the laws better result in making the laws worse, we should perhaps avoid poking the bear, or spend a lot of time getting ducks in rows before gingerly offering a teeny tiny baby step in false hope that those on the other side of the aisle will be receptive.

I don’t pretend to know what the solution is, but what I believe it to be is to turn our backs on the NRA and the Republicans who are beholden to them.  I am perplexed that our society has turned into a sensationalistic outrage machine, but we can’t change that by refusing to play the outrage came.  Instead, we have to win it.

Jewish values prioritize the preservation of human life above all.  These same values require us to act to bring about the change necessary to preserve it, including political activism.  We have a rich history of successful political activism, including in the establishment of Israel.

So let’s not bother with those who have their minds made up.  Instead, let’s get the other folks off their couches and turn the people’s opinions into action.

What’s the best way to do this?  I don’t pretend to know.  But in my view, the most likely path to actual change is to appeal to the otherwise politically disengaged while they are reeling from the latest horror.

It’s hard for me to understand why society has been permitted to cast this as callous.  If, G-d forbid, my loved one were hurt or killed in a random act of gun violence, any reaction other than a collective outcry and commitment to address this problem would compound my pain.

We must demand change.  And since now is the time to talk about it, let’s talk about it.  Among those things that should be considered, debated, and acted upon: background checks, waiting periods, gun responsibility classes, stricter license requirements, registries.  Here are a number of logically weak arguments from the gun lobby invoked against any and each of those measures, and my (admittedly snarky) responses:

  • Good guy with a gun!  I’m seeing this argument less often because of how demonstrably ridiculous it is.  My one-sentence response: remember how well that worked out at Pulse Nightclub?  And if you really like good guys with guns, you should probably also like laws that ban or heavily restrict the type of mass-casualty guns that prevent any good guys with guns from having a chance.
  • There are lots of guns in Israel!   Mhm.  They’re pretty much all in the hands of soldiers.  If you’re invoking Israel as a comparison, your position is precisely contrary to the Second Amendment, which is designed to prevent a police state from having too much power.  For the record, Israel has comprehensive gun control.
  • But Second Amendment!  Ironic that the folks who cite this often don’t really care about any other amendments, but I digress.  The Second Amendment says absolutely nothing about regulating guns.  The government regulates literally everything regarding which the Constitution bestows rights.
  • But they’re going to take our guns away!  Straw man.  I have never actually seen anything proposed that would do this… have you?  The one exception I know of is bans on certain types of guns whose only purpose is to inflict mass human casualty and cannot reasonably be justified as a self-defense tool.  But most gun control advocates would be willing to take this off the table if the opposition were willing to negotiate on
  • But slippery slope!  They’ll take our guns away in 20 years!  This is another specific logical fallacy and often used to oppose a gun registry.  Regardless, this is precisely what the Second Amendment should and does prevent–it’s a brick wall right at the top of the hill.  It guides regulators and legislators to enact gun restrictions that are reasonable and with the view toward respecting the right to gun ownership of those who have demonstrated competence, proficiency and responsibility.
  • But with waiting periods, background checks, bans on AK47s, etc. I won’t be able to form my militia if the government becomes evil.  Srsly?  You’ll probably need a bit more than guns to overthrow an evil government.  If the government becomes evil, you’ll be in as good shape as you can be with the guns you will have accumulated before then.
  • Guns don’t kill people, people kill people. People who kill people without guns can kill a lot more people with guns.
  • They would have found a way to kill people without a gun. I have never seen any data that bears this out, and find it very implausible.  Particularly with regard to the mentally ill, many of whom have incredible difficulties functioning in daily life–the fact that they are still able to get a gun with zero fanfare should tell you something about how ridiculous things are.  In any case, there are many, many instances of violence that would not have occurred absent easy gun access, and many instances of violence with a different weapon that would have caused much more deaths / injuries if the perpetrator had a gun.
  • Bad guys will always find ways to get guns, then they’ll be the only ones with guns.  Some bad guys will get illegal guns, sure.  But many won’t bother.  Plus, the “good guys” will still have theirs.
  • Let’s address [X] other issue (mental health, “radical Islamic terrorism”).   Red herring / false dichotomy fallacies.  We can, should, and do address all of these at once, but the statistics show that guns are the most urgent.  Not to mention that those who lodge this argument are often completely full of hot air.  For example, to address mental health it might require, oh, I dunno, comprehensive mental health coverage and not treating mental health issues as a pre-existing condition. 

The shameless cherrypicking and hypocrisy with which pro-gun folks will attempt to deflect from the obvious reality that gun violence is a huge problem in this country really boggles–but most of us aren’t like that.  Most of us want our government to review this issue rationally and regulate it just like they would anything else that impacts public safety.  But most of us are on our couches and not speaking up about this.

This is the shofar-blast-wake-up-call none of us wanted right after Yom Kippur.  But let us channel our grief for these victims into preservation of life, and into reeling the gun control debate back from its crazy outer space orbit and onto the cold solid ground where it belong.

The cold solid ground on which 58 people died in a mass shooting in Las Vegas this week.

About the Author
B. Shira Levine writes about Jewish spirituality and observance, parenting, intersectionality, and the U.S. and Atlanta Jewish communities. Views are her own and not those of her employer, synagogues, or any other organization.
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