Rabbi Saperstein Reflects on the Gun Violence Epidemic

March 14, 2013Rabbi David Saperstein

This piece was originally published on March 13 with the Very Reverend Gary Hall, dean of the Washington National Cathedral, in the Huffington Post Religion Blog.

Our two faiths mark the Sabbath in different ways -- different days, in fact. But the common thread we share is that it is a time when we pause from daily life for reflection and worship. This weekend, not only will the Sabbath be different from other days of the week, it will also be different than other Sabbaths during the year. Congregations across the country will participate in a gun violence prevention Sabbath.

The impact of the tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., this past December -- just three short months ago -- cannot be overstated. Last year was one of tragic shootings: a movie theater in Aurora, Colo.; a Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisc.; a mall in Portland, Ore; the daily gun deaths in urban neighborhoods across America; tens of thousands of shootings that did not receive nearly as much media attention, but are no less devastating. And yet, Newtown stood out as different; the innocence of the young victims was too much for us to comprehend.

We have become numb to these shootings. We see the reports on the news, the media swarms in to cover it for a few days, and there are perfunctory statements about how we can never let it happen again. Then Newtown happened, and it jolted our conscience and shook this nation from its moral complacency. We reached a point where inaction was no longer acceptable.

As faith leaders, we have a moral obligation to teach and to inspire our congregations toward action. And we have a responsibility to build on the momentum surrounding this issue. We must not reach the end of 2013 only to see missed opportunity and more senseless violence and death. Many predicted that momentum would once again fade; and yet it hasn't. Just this past week, a Senate committee sent legislation to the floor to stem the tide of "gun trafficking," the process by which people eligible to purchase guns legally do so and then transfer them to those who are ineligible to make the purchase themselves. It is the first time the Senate has taken such action in many years.

This weekend, congregations across America will mark the Sabbath with a special emphasis on how people of faith can help prevent further gun violence. As members of the faith community, we recognize that we have a moral imperative to unite in common purpose and to advocate for legislation that promises to address the epidemic of gun violence that plagues our nation. Together, congregations will continue to call for, among other measures, background checks for all gun sales, a ban on military-style assault weapons and high capacity magazines, and to make gun trafficking a federal crime. These common sense measures seek to protect human life, the sanctity of which is a core value of our religious traditions. In Leviticus 19 we are commanded, "do not stand idly by the blood of our neighbor." By participating in this weekend's Sabbath, we realize the merits of this solemn obligation.

Now is the time for our voices to be heard. Now is the time for Congress to act. The answers are not complicated, but they do take political courage backed by broad-based support. It is imperative that our representatives put special interests aside and put the American people's interests -- their very lives -- first.

While we remain steadfast in our commitment to the advancement of gun violence prevention legislation, we do not purport these measures to be a singular answer to our nation's woes. As members of the clergy and leaders in our respective faiths, we recognize the important role that the faith community can and must play in tending to an American culture that praises violence and worships weapons. We must embark on a societal shift, and as a religious community, we accept the challenge to accelerate this cause.

If your community is participating in this weekend's gun violence prevention Sabbath, add your voice by attending; support your house of worship in its decision to take a stand. Whether or not your house of worship is participating, you have the power to engage. Encourage your clergy to deliver sermons on this subject and turn them into op-ed pieces for your local papers. Ask your house of worship to join with other faith communities to host speakers and programs on gun violence. Contact your members of Congress, your state and local legislators, your mayor, your governor -- anyone who is empowered to advance change.

Together, the faith communities joining this Sabbath represent millions of Americans. We have power in numbers, we have momentum, and we have a calling to advance change.


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