Progressive political movements have always attracted a fair share of faith-based groups and religious leaders. I’m thinking, for example, of the Berrigan brothers, Dan and Phil, who were nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998; or Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker’s Movement, or the Society of Friends, a.k.a. the Quakers, or as we referred to them during the anti-war days, the Quakes.
The intertwining of religion and progressive social protest has reaffirmed itself again in the growth and strength of the movement to end gun violence, or what I am going to start calling it – the anti-gun movement. Because that’s what it is. If you are against gun violence ultimately you are against guns. Yea, yea, I know all about 2nd-Amendment ‘rights.’ But the fact that someone has the ‘right’ to own a gun doesn’t mean he or she has to own a gun, okay? Anyway, back to the issue of faith-based organizations and gun violence.
One of the religious groups that has moved into focus as regards gun violence is Rabbis Against Gun Violence, which describes itself as “a national grassroots coalition of Jewish American leaders and faith activists from across the denominational spectrum mobilized to curb the current gun violence epidemic plaguing our country.” That’s a fairly standard approach for faith-based advocacy, wouldn’t you say? And in this respect, the RAGV group is a valuable addition to the anti-gun organizational lineup, particularly given the fact that the list of mass shootings in houses of worship now includes the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, PA.
On the RAGV website, you can find a nice, 50-page primer which can be used to explain a proper Jewish response to gun violence. The resource is built around the holiday of Shavuot which is celebrated in late Spring and commemorates the transfer of Jewish law – the Talmud – on Mount Sinai. Since Torah is the fundamental guide to Jewish belief, Shavuot is an important yearly event.
The Shavuot guide to gun violence opens with the following list:
Childproof caps on medicine bottles • Seat belts and airbags in cars • Bike helmets • Fences around swimming pools or construction sites • Smoke detectors • Drivers’ license tests • Designated drivers • Banning food additives • Standards for bars on cribs.
Here’s the answer: “As a modern society, we have decided that there are times it is appropriate to have laws and regulations designed to safeguard ourselves and others from injury or death, for reasons of health and safety.”
The guide then goes on to list things that Jews (and everyone) can do to protect themselves from injury and death, safety procedures, including safe storage, that are explained with reference to Biblical texts. So gun safety thus becomes justified through religious belief. Fine.
There’s only one little problem. The list of various safety measures such as childproof caps, seat belts, helmets, et. al., happens to be comprised of products in which design features had to be changed because otherwise the way these products were used resulted in unacceptable levels of injury and deaths.
That being said, let me break the news gently to my rabbinical friends and, for that matter everyone else in the gun-control community. Guns, particularly handguns, are perfectly designed to do only one thing: injure or kill someone else. Wane to make a design change to prevent such injuries? You no longer have a gun.
I don’t understand why well-meaning gun-control advocates like members of RAGV won’t accept a very common-sense idea that there is simply no way to pretend that a handgun could ever be used except to do what it is designed to do. Isn’t it about time that we stopped all the nonsense about ‘safe’ gun ownership and simply promote the idea that we need to get rid of guns?
Such an idea might be anathema to my friends in Gun-control Nation. But it happens to align perfectly with part of the most important religious text of all: Thou Shalt Not Kill. If we really want to align religious faith with advocacy against gun violence, shouldn’t we begin right there?