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Guns and Jews: Stand Up for the State of Our Union

“He who saves one life saves the entire world.” – The Talmud

“The law of the land is the law.” – The Talmud

Many gun control advocates are disappointed that President Obama’s State of the Union address last night dedicated just two sentences to preventing gun violence. Rather than make it the emotional big finish he did last year, President Obama simply stated,

“Citizenship means standing up for the lives that gun violence steals from us each day. I have seen the courage of parents, students, pastors, and police officers all over this country who say ‘we are not afraid,’ and I intend to keep trying, with or without Congress, to help stop more tragedies from visiting innocent Americans in our movie theaters, shopping malls, or schools like Sandy Hook.”

What else was he supposed to say? Since the start of January 2014, there has been a school shooting in our country every other day. Every. Other. Day. The president offered us his leadership, and I think his words last night on the issue were as powerful as a president’s can be. The president called on our citizenship. He said it is up to me, to you, to every citizen, to step up, make our voices heard, and get reasonable gun control laws passed in our country.

Congress plays an important role in this fight, but so do our state and local governments. So we’re in luck, because it is easier for you and I to get active at the state and local level. We can’t wait for Congress. We won’t.

Look, the gun violence won’t stop and it’s gotten very personal. A little over a year ago, a twenty-year-old armed with four hand guns murdered 27 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School, most of them first graders.* My daughter will be in first grade next year. A little over a month ago, an eighteen-year-old entered Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colorado and fired six rounds with a legally obtained pump action shotgun killing himself and seventeen year old student Claire Davis. I live in Greenwood Village, Colorado, seven miles from Arapahoe High School. Indeed, I drove by the school yesterday afternoon on my way to a meeting.

When things get personal, I often look to Judaism for insight. It’s one of the fallouts of having spent my own school years in Jewish day school. And when I think about gun control, concepts that illuminate the sanctity of human life in the Torah and Talmud—“Thou shalt not murder;” “He who saves one life saves the entire world”—come to mind. But it is the dictate, “Dina d’malchuta dina” (The law of the land is the law) that I keep coming back to when I think about what I’m supposed to do as an American Jew when it comes to protecting my children from gun violence.

The phrase “The law of the land is the law” is attributed to the sage Samuel, and means that a Jew must obey the laws of the country in which he resides unless that law directly contradicts halakhah, or Jewish law. As Jews, therefore, often the most powerful thing we can do to effect change where we live is to influence local law.

In the stunned aftermath of the Sandy Hook shootings, the state of Colorado passed two bills intended to limit gun violence. The first requires a background check for all gun purchases in person or online, including at gun shows. The other bans certain types of high-capacity magazine or “assault” weapons. But shortly after the new background check system and assault weapons ban were put in place, state and national pro-gun groups spent millions of dollars to organize the recalls of two Democratic state senators who voted for the laws. And many Colorado state sheriffs have made it clear that they do not intend to enforce them. While the laws remain in effect, the legislature reconvened this month, and Colorado gun rights promoters seek to overturn or change my state’s new gun restrictions.

Just a week or so ago, my five-year-old daughter learned about “Marfer King Lufer Jr.” and how King changed the world. Her homework was to complete the following sentence: “If I had a dream, I would…” Adina wrote, “Stop people from hitting.”

I smiled to myself at her adorable pronunciation of King’s name, told her how much I liked her dream, and said, “‘Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.’ Do you know what that means?”

She stared at me for a split second, and then ran off to play with her brother. But that’s ok. She heard me. I heard me. And so I’m seeking to fulfill my duties as a citizen, and see what I can do to ensure that the law of my land safeguards the lives of its school children.

* May their memories be for a blessing: Charlotte Bacon, Daniel Barden,
 Rachel Davino,
 Olivia Engel,
 Josephine Gay,
 Ana M. Marquez-Greene, Dylan Hockley, 
Dawn Hochsprung,
 Madeleine F. Hsu,
 Catherine V. Hubbard,
 Chase Kowalski,
 Jesse Lewis, James Mattioli, 
Grace McDonnell, 
Anne Marie Murphy, 
Emilie Parker, 
Jack Pinto,
 Noah Pozner,
Caroline Previdi, Jessica Rekos, 
Avielle Richman, 
Lauren Rousseau, 
Mary Sherlach, 
Victoria Soto, 
Benjamin Wheeler, 
Allison N. Wyatt.

haha here we are
Full image
Source: Wikimedia Commons and Ed Linton.

How to cite this page

Becker, Evelyn. "Guns and Jews: Stand Up for the State of Our Union." 29 January 2014. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 21, 2014) <http://jwa.org/blog/guns-and-jews-stand-up-for-state-of-our-union>.

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