We wake up this morning and the death count in yesterday’s massacre in an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, is now 19 children and 2 adults. Several more were severely wounded and the death count may yet grow higher.
Every time there is a mass shooting the satirical news site The Onion runs a headline which says “No Way to Prevent This, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.” As President Biden said yesterday, other nations have mental illness and domestic violence; what they don’t have is the easy access to high powered weapons that we have in this country.
This week’s Parasha, BeHukotai, makes it clear that these things don’t randomly happen. God has given us a world where, as my mentor Rev. James Walsh SJ said, “there is no doctrine of reward and punishment in the Bible -- there are consequences.” The consequences of our societal decision to make guns easily available are Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Uvalde -- but also the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh which is why our doors are locked during services and one of the reasons we ask you to sign up in advance to attend.
I write this as a gun owner who had to go through a background check to purchase my weapon because it was bought at a gun store: and who keeps up with legislative issues surrounding guns. Regardless of whether I think it would be wise to outlaw the ownership of guns by private individuals, it will never happen in this country. But there are two things which can be done that might not completely eliminate these types of massacres but would reduce their likelihood significantly:
-- Universal background checks: as I wrote above, I am a gun owner and because I bought my gun at a licensed gun shop, I had to go through a background check. But the requirement for a background check only applies to sales by licensed firearms dealers. If I were to decide to sell my weapon, I could do so with no requirement to run a background check on the purchaser, no paperwork, and essentially no liability on my part unless the government could prove I knew the purchaser was ineligible to own a gun. This is what’s known as the “gun show loophole” since many of the sellers at gun shows are considered private parties and not dealers. This loophole could be closed and the House has already passed a bill to do so but it is being derailed in the Senate by a filibuster. This loophole could be closed today if those preventing it cared more about schoolchildren’s lives than they did the NRA and its affiliated PACs.
-- Red Flag laws: Maryland is one of nineteen states which has what is colloquially known as a “Red Flag Law.” Under these kinds of laws, certain individuals -- it varies from state to state -- can go to court and petition to have a person’s guns taken away because they pose a danger to themselves or others. Yesterday’s shooter showed increasingly bizarre and violent behavior and made it widely known that he intended to buy a gun on his 18th birthday (which was a week ago today). Before going to the school the first person he shot was his grandmother. If Texas had a Red Flag law it is likely that the shooter never would have been able to obtain his gun and yesterday’s massacre would not have happened.
Theodor Herzl, the founder of the Zionist movement, said “if you will it, it is not a dream.” We may not be able to fully eliminate gun violence but we can drastically reduce it. As a country it is not that we lack the means, but we lack the will. Thoughts and prayers are important but we need action as well.
Reminders from earlier in the week:
-- We have made a slight change to our protocol for attending in-person services: if you have had a close exposure to someone who tested positive for COVID-19, we ask that you refrain from attending for ten days past the exposure and also test negative for COVID-19 (an in-home test is fine). This is stricter than current CDC protocols but we feel that this is beneficial in protecting the health and well being of our members. When you register to attend this Shabbat in person, you will notice that both our registration form and COVID regulations have been amended to reflect this change. As always we trust you to comply with our regulations and are not asking to see vaccine cards or test results.
-- There is no Adult Education class tomorrow night because I am scheduled to have a procedure tomorrow morning to remove a small growth on my face under my eye. This will also mean a change in our class schedule for June since I will be teaching my “Contemporary Jewish Controversies” class on the first and third Thursdays and my Rashi class on the second and fourth.
-- Plans for Shavuot: Shavuot begins Saturday night June 4. We will be joining the Conservative Movement’s online Tikkun that night. Services for the first day of Shavuot on Sunday June 5 will be Zoom only. Services for the second day of Shavuot, June 6, which include Yizkor will be in person and on Zoom. They will be followed by a kiddush which, weather permitting, will be held outdoors in order to maximize the safety of those attending. The link for the Tikkun, service times and the sign up sheet for second day Shavuot will be provided later this week.
As always, if I can do anything for you or you need to talk, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-977-0768 rather than through the synagogue office. Although I am working primarily from home, I am happy to meet you at the synagogue by appointment. I have been spending more time in the synagogue recently but if you want to speak with me it’s best to make an appointment rather than assuming I will be there when you stop by.
Rabbi Charles L. Arian