People from a broad spectrum of religious beliefs gathered at Temple Hillel B’nai Torah in West Roxbury yesterday for a Community Forum on Gun Violence sponsored by the Temple and Advocates for Safe and Sound Gun Laws. Rabbi Barbara Penzner welcomed the group by speaking to the moral foundations of the struggle to end gun violence. Reading from the statement on gun violence by the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis, Rabbi Penzner emphasized that now is the time to take strong action, asking “if not now, when?” Although her remarks were rooted in Jewish history and faith, including the powerful quote from Leviticus 19:16 “Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor,” the sense of moral outrage expressed crosses lines of faith and culture.
Rabbi Penzner welcomes us to Temple Hillel B’nai Torah
“We need to recognize and halt the dual scourge of mass murder, both the random shootings that happen in one horrifying moment and the plague of urban violence that takes lives one bullet at a time, day after day,” Rabbi Penzner urged, quoting the Massachusetts Board of Rabbis. She then called for people who had lost loved ones to gun violence to stand and recite their names, so that we could recognize the very real suffering that spurs us to action. Approximately a dozen people stood to quietly name those they had lost.
Suzanne Schlossberg of Advocates for Safe and Sound Gun Laws
Advocates for Safe and Sound Gun Laws formed in wake of the Newtown, CT tragedy. “To this day I can’t say those words [Sandy Hook] without a lump,” Suzanne Schlossberg admitted in her introduction to the organization. Thanking everyone for coming, Schlossberg noted that “we don’t have all the answers. We don’t even have all the questions. But we do know that violence, like injustice, flourishes when good people do nothing.” Broaching a theme that would come up many times throughout the evening, Schlossberg urged everyone to “join us in letting our elected officials know that we expect more. We expect better. From them and from our selves. Because ultimately, we are responsible for the kind of government we get, the kind of society we create.”
Angus McQuilken explains the need for legislative change
As the first speaker, Angus McQuilken spoke directly to the need for legislative change. A board member for States United to Prevent Gun Violence and the co-convener of the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence, McQuilken was instrumental in passing the Massachusetts Gun Control Act of 1998. Why do we need stronger gun laws? Every year guns kill 30,000 Americans. That’s more than were killed in the 9/11 attacks and more than the number of Americans killed in Afghanistan and Iraq combined. When more Americans are killed on streets, homes, and schools of America in a year than soldiers in twelve years of war, McQuilken argues that something needs to change. And McQuilken is clear on what: expansion of current federal background check laws to include gun shows and private sales (which account for 40% of all gun sales) and the creation of a federal ban on semi-automatic assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. In Massachusetts, McQuillken argues for an expansion of the suitability standard that allows police chiefs to deny handguns to people based on their judgement to cover long guns like rifles and shotguns as well and requiring people to sign a waiver to release mental health records if they want to buy a gun. McQuilken stressed that these were his views, and not the official views of either of the organizations he represents.
Nancy Robinson of Citizens for Safety moved the discussion away from legislative change to the problem of trafficking in Boston and other urban areas. Recounting a few of the heartbreaking funerals she has attended, including the double funeral of a teenager and his grandmother who died of a heart attack when she learned that her grandson had been fatally shot and the open casket of a two-year-old who died in his mother’s arms, Robinson insists that people in the cities “can’t wait for the laws to change.” She urges us to ask “where do the guns come from?” In an op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Robinson notes that “most violent crimes…are committed with handguns by felons and minors who do not have a Second Amendment right to posses them.” Strengthening background check legislation will only solve part of the problem. Equally important is educating people about the problem of trafficking. Robinson spoke movingly about the work Citizens for Safety is doing through Operation LIPSTICK using peer-to-peer education to raise awareness among inner city women, who are often used as straw purchasers to acquire guns for men who are legally barred from purchasing them.