A L’chaim to Gun Control
“He who saves one life… is as if he saves an entire universe. He who destroys a life… is as if he destroys an entire universe” (Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:5).
Logic tells me that I should be desensitized to news of another mass shooting in the United States. I remember coming home one day in sixth grade to find out that Gabrielle Giffords had been shot in the head two hours south of my home. I remember the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting the next year, and I remember that my mother was convinced that I was traumatized. I remember my summer camp counselor telling me about the massacre carried out by Dylann Storm Roof in a church in South Carolina, and I remember waking up to read about the members of my community who were killed at the Pulse nightclub. I remember always feeling too young, too far away, too powerless to do anything about these acts of violence. My Jewish youth groups were telling me to disarm hate and to not be complicit—but what could I actually do?
The Friday after the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead and 546 people injured, my friend Hannah and I ran a Young Democrats meeting centered around gun control at our high school. My initial shock had burned into anger over the course of the week, until I was stomping around, fueled by self-righteousness. I looked forward to our club meeting as only a means to an end–to rally the troops, to contact our local officials, to demand gun control legislation.
Fear replaced my righteousness as a gaggle of sophomore-ish looking boys marched into the classroom and sat down in the back. During the school-wide morning announcements, we had publicized that our meeting would focus on gun control, and naively, I didn’t consider the possibility of antagonistic guests.
I can’t even narrate most of the meeting–I felt too sick to my stomach for most of it. Our usual members vocalized their concerns over what had happened five hours from our hometown, and expressed a need for action. When the newcomers in the back raised their hands, we called on them; Hannah and I have a policy of equal representation, no matter the views being expressed. There was a lot of indignant talk about our constitutional right to defend ourselves and how mass shootings like this wouldn’t happen so often if more people had guns. Some of them were quiet; one of them dramatically stomped out in the middle of the meeting with a hollered “Make America great again!” As soon as I attempted to promote actual civic engagement by writing the phone numbers of Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake on the whiteboard, the rest of them shuffled out the door without a word. Fine by me—I don’t want my lawmakers hearing what they have to say anyway.
But the real kicker was when our resident Rand Paul superfan, who religiously comes to every meeting to disagree with everything we have to say, added: “Well only five people died” in a shooting that someone else had mentioned during the discussion. The gaggle of boys were annoying—the “five people” thing, though. That’s what broke me.
My Jewish education has taught me that there’s nothing more valuable than life. Cheers, salud, l’chaim. Every life matters. Every life counts. Five invaluable things–five infinities–are equally as important as one infinity–as 58 infinities. And to hear someone say the words “only five people died”? I felt like my own infinity had been wounded.
I am so grateful for the values that have been instilled in me through my Judaism, and I am proud that my culture places all life on a beautiful, holy pedestal. But in order to effect change in my community, I have to be able to articulate that to others.
I was too shocked to respond to our Rand Paul superfan, but I hope he keeps coming to Young Democrats meetings. I hope I get the opportunity to change his mind.
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This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.