Moms Demand Action speech
August 20, 2019
The ten commandments are clear. And of course the one most appropriate to remember today is “Thou shalt not murder”.
The Talmud expands upon that Torah command and teaches us that “the one who takes one life, it is as though they have destroyed the universe. And the one who saves one life, it is as though they has saved the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5).
So I wonder. Maybe you wonder. What about the one who takes 10 lives? Takes 20 lives? Takes 50 lives?
Every year in this country hundreds murdered by mass shootings alone. Every year in this country hundreds of universes are destroyed.
Can the mind even fathom the implications of such a tragedy?
I’m a professional in the sphere of prayer, and I am here to say ENOUGH of the thoughts and prayers. ENOUGH!
We know everything we need to know to stop gun violence. And passing the federal background check bill and a federal red flag law is the very LEAST we can do to begin to stem the tide of violence.
You know, the Talmud also has a lengthy discussion about laws relating to weapons sales. In brief, one may not sell weapons or accessories to those prone to use them for murder but they can be sold to those who want to use them for protection. We figured this out 1500 years ago, for crying out loud!
Rav Ritva (Avodah Zarah 16a) writes that this prohibition is based on the concept of lifnei iver, a prohibition against enabling someone else to commit a transgression. By providing weapons to someone who might use them for crime, one is enabling the purchaser to violate a transgression. Centuries later the Rambam also emphasized that we don’t provide people with tools that can harm society.
I know it is fashionable to think that we know so much more now than we used to know. What with science and psychology and anthropology we understand human nature and social systems better today and so of course we are going to come up with better solutions today than the ancients did.
I think not. I think not.
I also want to urge that we remember that gun control strategies alone will not be sufficient to end this scourge of mass murders. While some have seemed random, we must accept that when Black and Immigrant and Jewish and Sikh and LGBTQI+ peoples are targeted and/or hate filled White Power manifestos exist, it is not just guns but White Nationalism that must be uprooted and nullified. We must find ways to end this slow and steady genocide.
So yes, we must pass these laws but we also need upstream strategies to uproot hate, to squelch attraction to authoritarianism, to end the belief that violence is good. We must provide trauma informed care to bullies and those bullied. We must see and invite alienated young men who haven’t found a place to fit in and welcome them into a life filled with music or sports or art or poetry or or or or so no young man fills himself with hate instead of creativity and love. We must fund organizations like Life After Hate, supporting those who have transcended a past of violence to bring others back into kindness and compassion.
We have so much work to do! But together we can.
I want to close with two offerings. First, a blessing that this nation comes to its senses and lives into the kind of caring, welcoming and safe community that Judaism envisioned and worked so very hard to manifest throughout the millienia. May we pass red flag laws and background checks speedily and in our day.
And then, I’d like to offer a memorial moment so we remember not only in our heads, but also in our hearts why this is so very urgent, so very critical.
After I name the site of a mass gun shooting, please say, as we do in the Jewish tradition: May their memories be for a blessing…
Sandy Hook elementary School in 2012
Sikh gurdwara in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, in 2012
Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015
Pulse LGBTQ Night club in Orlando, Florida, in 2016
Harvest Music Festival in Las Vegas, Nevada, in 2017
Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida in 2018
Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue in 2018
Gilroy California Garlic Festival in July 2019
Walmart in El Paso, Texas in August 2019
Nightlife district in Dayton, Ohio in August 2019
And here in Oregon:
the 2012 shooting at Clackamas Town Center,
the 2015 Umpqua Community College shooting in Rosewood,
Deante Strickland, a PSU athlete shot and killed in NE Portland just three weeks ago,
And finally those lost to gun violence every single day in this nation
May their memories be for a blessing.
For all those killed and injured by gun violence, for all the families devastated by their losses, for all the communities decimated in the aftermath of virulent hate, in their memory and for our own families and the children of our children, please repeat after me,
WE WILL TURN THIS TIDE FOR YOU.
WE WILL CREATE THE WORLD YOU DESERVED.
YOUR DEATH WILL NOT BE IN VAIN.