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Column: Jewish Community Must Assume a Stronger Role Lobbying for Gun-Safety Laws

After news broke that three children and three adults were gunned down in Nashville, I spent some time perusing the Anti-Defamation League’s lengthy report on antisemitic incidents last year. It covered much ground, and one could say that nothing about it disturbed me.

There was nothing about gun-safety laws contained in a long list of recommendations for addressing antisemitism. A subsection titled “Make Institutions Safe from Antisemitism” lists five suggestions for government and communal action.

“Whether the attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the Chabad in Poway (a San Diego suburb) or hate against Jewish students on college campus, there is an acute threat of antisemitic violence and harassment,” the report states. “The Jewish community must be protected from these threats and counter the movements that produce them.”

ADL’s top recommendation reads, “Protect the physical security of Jewish community institutions through full funding of the Non-Profit Security Grant Program.”

Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker acted upon what he learned on Jan. 15, 2022, from a security program so he could help save himself and three congregants from an armed terrorist who held them hostage at Congregation Beth El in Colleyville, Texas. The rabbi was not only brave but incredibly lucky since what happened there could have turned tragic, as happened in Pittsburgh and Poway. Eleven congregants were murdered in Pittsburgh and a woman was shot to death in Poway.

Gun violence all over America is at tornado-force, taking 20,138 lives (excluding suicides) in 2022, according to the website The Trace. The Colleyville perp bought his gun on the street in Dallas in a state where its leaders make it easier to access guns – even after 19 elementary school students and two teachers were shot to death last May inside the Robb Elementary School in Uvalde.

Anyone who cares about the issue would speak out against the lax gun laws in many states where criminals can buy the guns and smuggle them into mostly northern states. It is no revelation that stricter federal laws are needed that would require universal background checks and limit if not ban sales of assault weapons, and those controlling Congress refuse to do anything about it.

Yet the ADL neglects to incorporate gun-safety laws into its recommendations. Nor are Jewish organizations generally adding their voices as extensively as they should.

In its latest story on security concerns, The Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia on Thursday reported on a new security program serving Jewish communities in New Jersey and Delaware. Like past stories on security programs, the Exponent neglects to suggest how gun-safety laws might fit in as part of the situation. The Exponent has frequently been accused of, to put it charitably, inconsistency in its news coverage. The Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia bought the paper in 1945 and sold it a year ago to Mid-Atlantic Media of Columbia, Md.

Most large Jewish communities are situated in states like New York and California where the leadership is tough on access to weapons, but the Jewish presence in Pennsylvania and Florida is sizable enough to swing elections in close races.

For that matter, any individual or organization should be pressing for legislative changes.

The more pressure, the greater the possibility that Congress might act. Practically speaking, it is likely that Congress will continue to ignore legislative changes. Republicans control the House of Representatives and hold sufficient power in the Senate to block gun-safety laws.

The congressman representing the district where The Covenant School is located could not be more disingeneous. He expressed sympathy on the House floor for the six victims in last week’s shooting spree and praised the Nashville police officers who stopped the shooter, preventing further bloodshed.

Rep. Andy Ogles, a Republican, ended his spiel with the words, “We’re here for you.”

Here for who? The victims? Where was he when he had the chance to prevent a massacre in his own congressional district?

Before he was elected to Congress, Ogles and his family displayed heavy weaponry in a social media post while posing in front of a Christmas tree. “The very atmosphere of firearms anywhere and everywhere restrains evil interference,” Ogles’ caption read.

And so on Monday, March 27, the shooter entered the Covenant School with three guns and murdered 9-year-olds Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs and William Kinney and adults Katherine Koonce, 60, the head of the school, substitute teacher Cynthia Peak, 61, and custodian Mike Hill, also 61.

How can anyone – especially our leaders and prominent organizations – move ahead without doing what they can to stop such an atrocity?

The same night, I began reading the ADL’s new report that counted 3,697 antisemitic incidents in 2022, a 36 percent jump from the year before. Harassment incidents composed the majority, but 111 assaults and more than 1,200 cases of vandalism were also included.

I sensed a distinct disconnect as the ADL report highlights “protect(ing) the physical security” of Jewish facilities while overlooking gun-safety laws. Security programs for synagogues and Hebrew schools are important, of course, but will they prevent shootings if would-be assailants can access firearms?

On Monday, at 10:13 a.m., thousands of public-school students in Tennessee walked out of their schools exactly one week after the Covenant School slaughter to pressure state lawmakers for effective action. Film of the protest was impressive. We must wonder if this will produce change. It is an uphill battle since Republicans control the state, and most of these students cannot even vote.

Students in Philadelphia turned out for protests on Sunday, but with Philly being a Democratic town they were preaching to the choir.

Gun violence is a crisis, literally a matter of life and death. The Jewish community, like all communities, must assume a stronger role in keeping guns off the street.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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