If You Think The Sit-In Over Gun Violence Ended Last Week, Think Again.

There’s a new group on the Gun Violence Prevention landscape called Rabbis Against Gun Violence, and they have engineered a clever event today that deserves some attention. Actually, it’s a series of events they are calling a Sit-InTo Disarm Hate, and it is an attempt to carry forward the direct action of the House of Representatives sit-in last week to the district offices of Congressional reps, many of whom will be back home for the July 4th break.

rabbis           Here’s the way it’s going to work. First you print out a sign. Then you share it on whatever social media platforms you use (and of course personalize with a pic,) then tweet it to: @RabbisAgstGunV and use the hashtag #DisarmHate. Then contact the Rabbis group on their website and they will help you coordinate or join an event.

It doesn’t really matter whether you are by yourself, or it’s just you and a few other folks, or maybe it’s an anti-violence or anti-hate group that is looking for something to do.  The bottom line is that in many, if not most cases, you’ll be sending a message to the home office of an elected representative that they may not have ever received before.  And you are also telling your rep that when he or she goes back to DC, the possibility of more direct action looms ahead.

Because the truth is that this issue is not going to fade away.  We have reached a tipping-point because for the first time a grass-roots effort to promote an end to gun violence is beginning to take hold.  And if nothing else, what Orlando demonstrated beyond the shadow of any doubt is that something has to be done.  And it’s not just a question of ‘fixing’ this or ‘fixing’ that; serious and substantial changes have to occur.

I’m kind of an old-fashioned guy so the idea that religious groups should spearhead political change isn’t how I was brought up to think.  Religion was religion, politics was politics, the two didn’t usually intersect. But it was the Civil Rights movement that started in the 1950’s which changed all that, and the rabbis who have put together this new group to confront gun violence are acting in a tradition which now goes back more than sixty years.  Remember the Selma Bridge march in 1965?  One of the marchers was a Rabbi named Abraham Heschel, who was an admirer and confidante of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and it was his leadership that forged a Jewish commitment to civil rights that remains strong to this day.

Now it turns out that a member of the group’s Executive Committee, Rabbi Jill Jacobs, attended the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, which happens to be where Dr. Heschel taught from 1946 until his death in 1972.  So the mission and work of this new group flows directly from the previous generation of Jewish rabbinical activism and is reflected in the group’s founding statement that “we are rooted in and inspired by Jewish values, teachings, texts, history and traditions,” which if it isn’t rooted in Heschel’s life and work, I don’t know what is.

The NRA loves to advertise itself as America’s oldest civil rights organization. But I’m beginning to think that maybe, just maybe the attempt to link guns to civil rights may be about to take a different turn.  Because when you stop to think about it, isn’t it everyone’s civil right to live a life free from violence and physical strife?  And aren’t we actually advancing a civil rights agenda when we call for an end to violence caused by guns?

I hope this new group Rabbis Against Gun Violence continues to flourish and grow.  I wish them and their supporters on June 29th a zissen tag, which means a sweet day.  What they are doing needs to be done.
 

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Did Martin Luther King, Jr., Preach Against Gun Violence? In A Very Big Way.

Exactly one year before he was shot to death, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke out publicly against the Viet Nam War.  He did this in disagreement with many of his civil rights contemporaries, who were afraid he would fracture what was becoming a tenuous alliance with the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, notwithstanding the fact that Viet Nam was a Democratic war.

king              King’s opposition to the war was entirely consistent with his lifelong adherence to non-violence; simply put, he believed that using violence as a response to the social or economic ills that plagued mankind only produced more violence and could never be justified as the necessary means to achieve a desirable end.  I was at New York’s Riverside Church when King made his first anti-Viet Nam speech, and I recall how the emotions in that hall jumped as King accused his own country of using the same violence to quell the revolution in Southeast Asia as had been used to deny civil rights to African-Americans at home.

How much has changed in the nearly 50 years since Dr. King delivered that speech? I’d like to think that when it comes to the use of violence in response to social and economic problems, perhaps we have moved ahead.  But I’m not sure this is the case, and I’m certainly not about to say that we have learned how to separate the use of violence from the use of guns.

A day doesn’t go by without some pro-gun mouthpiece reminding us that guns protect us from crime.  And basically what they are all saying is that violence can and should be used against violence, except they don’t call it gun violence, they call it self-protection, freedom, and 2nd-Amendment rights. But make no mistake about it, when the NRA promotes CCW or Stand Your Ground laws, they are not only saying that violence is and should be a response to violence, they are asking for legal immunity for anyone taking that path. Now that most states have legalized unconditional CCW when it did not exist as a doctrine during Dr. King’s lifetime, shouldn’t we say that violence has become more, rather than less of an accepted social norm since his death?

Not only is violence sanctioned in the American legal fabric, but when efforts are made to curb violence through lawful means, the gun lobby and its sycophants in and out of the media resist such efforts on a continuous and usually successful basis.  Only 28 states have CAP laws which, by definition, would curb the unintended violence caused by accidental shootings, often committed by young children.  And if this isn’t bad enough, we have the disgraceful attempt by the NRA and several of its loony medical partners to demonize physicians for asking patients about access to guns, as if gun violence, as opposed to other forms of violence, lie outside the accepted purview of medical care.

We could blame this socially-acceptable diffusion of violence on the rhetorical excesses of the NRA, but Dr. King would be the first to object to such a facile explanation. Because in his 1967 speech, King was clear that we would not be able to reduce or eliminate violence at home if we did not find ways to reduce our use of organized, state-sanctioned violence abroad. And while I would like to say that we have learned this lesson from the debacle of Viet Nam, in fact it appears that each succeeding generation needs to re-learn this lesson again.  The $600 billion that we spent on the Pentagon in 2015 represents nearly 40% of military expenditures worldwide, and American military personnel are based in more than 100 countries that do not fly our flag.

Let’s not forget on Dr. King’s Day: the same President who signed the historic Voting Rights Act in 1965 signed the Gun Control Act in 1968.  In between those two dates, he sent half a million young men to Viet Nam.

Sorry Folks, But Gun Rights And Civil Rights Don’t Mean The Same Thing.

The NRA has long distinguished itself as the pre-eminent voice in documenting and preserving the history of American small arms.  I was born in Washington, D.C., and spent many happy hours wandering through the NRA’s museum in the old headquarters building that was walking distance from the Capitol and other government sites.  And I continue each month to enjoy the historical articles published in The American Rifleman magazine whose quality, frankly, puts the Smithsonian to shame. But lately, in their effort to find new customers and widen the market, the NRA has shifted away from its focus on the history of guns to explaining the history of why Americans use guns and, in the process, have started to play fast and loose with the facts.

Now don’t get me wrong.  I have never questioned, nor would I ever question anyone’s personal decision to own or use a gun.  God knows I own enough of them myself and I’ve sold more than 12,000 guns to other folks as well.  But I believe that when someone – anyone – makes the decision to become a gun owner it shouldn’t be made without at least acknowledging that guns represent a risk that requires them to be used with diligence and care.  And I will continue to speak out against the NRA and others who pretend that the risk of gun ownership is somehow mitigated by the protection and security afforded by a gun.  I have told many gun friends over the years that I will send a hundred bucks to the charity of their choice if they can prove that guns do more good than harm.  I have yet to write the first check.

            Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks

Getting back to the history of who uses guns, the NRA has just posted an article based on the newly-opened personal papers of Rosa Parks whose refusal to go to the “back of the bus” sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1955.  In a brief biographical sketch, Parks describes sitting up at night with her grandfather who kept a shotgun handy in case his family or others in the neighborhood were menaced by the Ku Klux Klan.  The NRA goes on to say that it was “common” for blacks to protect themselves against racially motivated violence and cites other examples of civil rights leaders, including the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., who kept guns on or near for self-defense.

I’m happy that the NRA has decided to create greater awareness about the struggle for civil rights and the value that black Americans placed on arming and defending themselves during that time.  But when the NRA uses the history of armed resistance to racism to justify arming the average American as a response to everyday crime, they are moving from past history to present-day advocacy, two positions that have nothing to do with each other at all.

The Klan wasn’t just someone who would break into your house or mug you in the street.  It was, in many areas of the South, an organized vigilante movement whose mission was to recreate the racist political and social structure that existed before the Civil War. That blacks chose to arm themselves in the face of political terrorism directed only at them should never be confused with decisions that people make today about whether personal ownership of guns will protect them from crime.

The NRA now refers to itself as America’s “longest-standing civil rights organization” and by that I guess they mean that somehow the 2nd Amendment ranks above all other Constitutional rights.  But the truth is that the NRA paid lip service at best to concerns about threats to the 2nd Amendment until Harlon Carter took over the leadership in 1977 and began to play the political advocacy game in a much more aggressive way.  By the time the NRA discovered that gun ownership was not just a Constitutional but also a civil right, black Americans had been fighting and winning their civil rights for over twenty years.

 

 

 

 

Here Come The Real Good Guys To Protect Us From Gun Violence.

Yesterday NPR put out a story, “Lawyers Band Together To Fight Gun Violence” based on an interview with Cy Vance, Jr., and Mike Feuer.  Except these guys aren’t just lawyers.  They happen to be the prosecutors of the two largest cities in the United States, Los Angeles and New York.  Next week they are meeting in Atlanta with prosecutors from such other major cities as Boston, Miami, Seattle, Detroit and Houston to discuss strategies that all these cities and others can adopt to deal with gun violence.

If anyone thinks that such an event isn’t a major step forward in dealing with the 11,000+ gun homicides, 120,000+ gun robberies and 140,000+ gun assaults that occur each year, they better think again.  Most of the gun violence that makes America the numero uno advanced country for gun crimes occurs in the cities and metro areas whose top crime-fighters will be at this conference.  In a word, this is serious sh-t.

In their unending effort to keep Americans from passing gun control legislation, the NRA goes out of its way to cultivate good relations with law enforcement officials and cops.  Except with one or two exceptions (the Detroit Police Chief, for example), this usually takes the form of getting sheriffs from rural and small-town jurisdictions to make public statements about the uselessness of gun control.  Invariably, these sheriffs are Republicans, they are aligned with pro-gun national politicians and organizations in their own states and their opposition to anti-gun measures are no less politically-driven than their opposition to any other piece of the Democratic party line.

But when we talk about big-city prosecutors, we’re talking about a different breed of cat. These folks don’t develop anti-crime agendas at the ballot box, their success or failure is based on keeping their cities safe.  And none of these prosecutors buy into the NRA nonsense that giving everyone a concealed-carry permit will get their job done.  They know from long experience that public safety is always based on solid laws, aggressive enforcement and community support.  It’s a triad that has been used again and again for all sorts of law enforcement concerns, and there’s really no room in it for debates about whether taking away my hi-cap gun magazine robs me of my Constitutional rights.

gun crime               The last time there was a coordinated, national effort by law enforcement to deal with gun violence grew out of the Clinton crime bill passed in 1994.  Nobody has yet been able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that the law was responsible for a 40% drop in gun homicides between 1994 and 1999, but it sure wasn’t because all of a sudden all the good guys were walking around armed with a gun.

Over the last fifteen years, beginning in 1999, the level of gun violence hasn’t gone up but it sure hasn’t gone down.  And the number and severity of multiple shootings has certainly increased, no matter what NRA sycophants like John Lott would otherwise like to pretend.  Even New York City, which saw the greatest drop in gun crime of any major urban center under Mayor Mike, has experienced a slight increase in shootings over the past year.

The appearance of a national effort by prosecutors to develop coordinated gun violence strategies has been paralleled by the recent emergence of another national organization, the National Network to Combat Gun Violence, representing city-level legislators from such cities as New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Los Angeles, Dallas, Seattle, Baltimore, Albany, Berkeley, Jersey City, Madison, Yonkers, Newark, Hoboken, White Plains, Richmond, Mt. Vernon, Olympia and Indianapolis.

The NRA might want its membership to believe that if they walk around with guns in their pockets they constitute the front-line defense against violence and crime.  But the truth is that the real good guys (and gals) are the people who are coming together at the legal, legislative and grass-roots levels to develop common-sense solutions to gun violence and gun crimes.