Non-violence and Gun Control (January 2013)

In the month of January, our nation will celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. Martin Luther King Day is an important national day of commemoration and reflection. There were so many elements of the spirit of Dr. King that stand as an ideal for all society. The first and foremost element of Dr. King’s influence and teachings was non-violence. I am writing this bulletin article just days after the unfathomable, senseless and brutal tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Our hearts go out to that community and to all those who suffered a heart wrenching loss. Words could never adequately express our sadness and rage over such an overwhelming tragic event. The teachings of non-violence of Dr. King need to be not only emphasized but put into practice by our society. 

The first order of business is to enact stiff gun-control laws. Too many Americans, especially children, die as a result of gun violence every day. Statistics strongly affirm that gun control laws prevent gun violence. Experts from the Harvard School of Public Health, using data from 26 developed countries, have shown that wherever there are more firearms, there are more homicides. In the case of the United States, exponentially more: the American murder rate is roughly 15 times that of other wealthy countries, which have much tougher laws controlling private ownership guns. How many more visions of shooting rampages will it take before the nation comes to grips with its runaway gun problem? Let’s stop clinging to the myth that the right to bear arms somehow outweighs common sense and humanity. 

Jewish tradition emphasizes the sanctity and primary value of human life. Isaiah exhorts the people of the earth to

beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4).

We are commanded to turn weapons of destruction into tools for the greater good of society. 

The Union of Reform Judaism has long recognized the need for legislation “that would limit and control the sale and use of firearms” and has called on the United States government to “eliminate the manufacture, importation, advertising, sale, transfer and possession of handguns except for limited instances.” (1975!) Over the years, the URJ has spoken out on gun control with particular passions, insisting that gun regulation is a vital necessity. Let us follow the lead of Dr. King in creating a society in which we express our differences through non-violence and enact laws to maintain a non-violent society. 

The Talmud teaches us, “he who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe.” The loss of so many lives, including children, is not just devastating, it is unacceptable, Let us call on members of Congress, the President and people committed to the well being of all, to press for gun control at all levels.

Rabbi Jeffrey Bennett