“Prayers answered,” tweeted Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. “All hostages are out alive and safe.”
What a relief that pro-gun advocates routinely offer prayers whenever innocent people are threatened with or harmed by firearms. Abbott maintained the pattern as we worried what would become of the four hostages at Congregation Beth Israel.
Would Malik Faisal Akram have been able to hold a rabbi and three of his congregants hostage without access to a handgun?
Last Saturday’s seizure of the Reform synagogue in Colleyville, located 3 1/2 miles west of Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, ties into a wide range of issues, most notably out of control antisemitism in this world. Even antisemitism links back to the need for gun-safety laws. Beth Israel hosted a community gathering more than three years ago to reflect on the Pittsburgh tragedy in which a gunman murdered 11 congregants at the Tree of Life Congregation.
Pittsburgh was the worst of shooting sprees targeting Jews in recent years, others being the shooting death of a female congregant at a synagogue in Poway, Calif., and a rampage leaving six dead in Jersey City, N.J., which culminated at a kosher grocery store. Not to mention a fatal slashing by machete in Monsey, N.Y., and a countless number of attacks upon Jews throughout the nation, especially in Brooklyn and Los Angeles.
Jews in Colleyville escaped harm due to some unusual factors. Among them, Covid-19 precluded congregants from attending the service in person; and the wise and courageous response of Rabbi Charlie – as most people address Charlie Cytron-Walker – that seemed to earn some level of trust from Akram, who inexplicably flew here from England 2 1/2 weeks before he entered the synagogue.
In Akram’s mind, holding four men hostage to demand the release of a convicted terrorist in a federal prison in Fort Worth was worth his eventual death and permanent separation from his children, including at least two teen-aged sons who were questioned by English authorities, according to a television broadcast. His brother, Gulbar Akram, said from England that Akram had six children, The New York Times reported. Was this one more case of a Muslim terrorist who hates Jews more than he loves his children?
South to Austin, the state capital, Gov. Abbott presides over a record of up to 118 shooting deaths in 15 incidents throughout Texas during the past dozen years, according to background information posted in The Texas Tribune and Wikipedia. Nine were killed in 2017 in Plano, a Dallas suburb which I visited some decades ago. Two church shootings resulted in 26 fatalities in Sutherland Springs in 2017 and three fatalities in the community of White Settlement in 2019.
Ten people died at Santa Fe High School, near Houston, in 2018; 23 mostly Hispanic residents in El Paso were shot to death at a Walmart in 2019; and five police officers were killed in Dallas in 2016. San Antonio appears to be the only major metropolitan area in Texas to be spared a mass shooting in recent years.
Texas lawmakers mainly responded by enacting laws which expanded the use of firearms, ostensibly to ease availability for the “good guy with a gun,” as pro-gun advocates delight in telling us. Was Rabbi Charlie licensed to toss a chair at Akram, after 11 hours in captivity, before he escaped with two congregants? A fourth hostage was released four hours earlier Saturday when he complained of medical problems. Akram died soon afterwards when he was shot by FBI agents.
Like Abbott, Republicans in Congress pray (ahem) religiously whenever a mass shooting occurs, yet they flatly refuse to vote for gun-safety legislation that would limit access to firearms to the kinds of people who are likely to kill or threaten people. Authorities believe that Akram bought his gun on the street after arriving in Texas. Akram’s brother described him as mentally ill, and some hostages perceived that he was mentally ill.
If gun-safety laws are introduced again, Senate Democrats fear they cannot even be allowed an up-or-down vote because Republicans will filibuster it. Two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin III of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, have so far refused to vote to end or revise the filibuster power. Each party holds 50 seats in the Senate, and a tie vote would be broken – presumably in favor of the Democrats – by Vice President Kamala Harris.
One of Abbott’s kindred spirits in my state, Pennsylvania Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman, asked state House leaders to launch impeachment proceedings against Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner because violence in the city is “a direct result of DA Krasner’s failed policies,” according to Wednesday’s Philadelphia Inquirer.
Krasner has been accused of prioritizing the rights of criminal suspects over the struggles of victims, but it is doubful if his practices have contributed in any large part to Philadelphia’s 562 homicides last year or the 22 homicides since the start of 2022. Krasner’s office was swift to call out Corman, a Republican candidate for governor, for the GOP-controlled legislature’s failure to pass substantial gun-safety laws
Jane Roh, Krasner’s spokesperson, said, “Jake Corman would rather point fingers at someone who’s been in office for four years than take accountability for what he’s failed to deliver for the past 25 in a seat he inherited from his father.”
In the same issue of the Inquirer, the newspaper reported that a 30-year-old man was shot to death inside a neighborhood market in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia, a few miles from where I grew up. Chief Inspector Scott Small said the gunman entered the store and approached the victim before firing.
On video, the shooter could be seen moving back to the front door and then returned to the victim, who was on the floor in an aisle but still moving, and fired more shots, according to Small.
This past Monday, a 31-year-old man was shot repeatedly in the upper body in the Eastwick section, near the airport, and was soon pronounced dead at Presbyterian Hospital – at 12:15 in the afternoon, according to the Inquirer. That evening, a 20-year-old man died in North Philadelphia after being shot in the face three times.
On Dec. 22, U.S. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon was carjacked at gunpoint in South Philadelphia, in her own congressional district; the Democrat represents Delaware County and part of South Philadelphia.. The night before, a confrontation with a robbery suspect in North Philadelphia left a police officer with shoulder wounds and a homeowner was shot in the leg while inside his home, police told the newspaper.
Since Saturday’s hostage-taking, President Biden is the only elected official of whom I am aware who has addressed gun-safety laws when he visited Philabundance, an anti-hunger agency located near the scene of the crime where the congresswoman was carjacked. Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were there last Sunday to pack food kits for local families.
He once again urged gun-regulation legislation when questioned by reporters. A White House document recorded some of his statements: “The idea of background checks are critical. But you can’t stop something like this if someone is on the street buying something from somebody else on the street…It’s because of the failure of us to focus as hard as we should and as consistent as we should on gun purchases, gun sales, ghost guns and a whole range of things that I’m trying to do.”
It is hard to envision gun-safety legislation succeeding this year with the current political system in place. All we can do is (Ahem!) pray.