In March our 11th and 12th graders went to Washington DC to participate in the L'taken Social Justice Seminar, a program by the Religious Action Center that empowers teens to learn about issues that they care about and then advocate to their representatives and senators on the Hill. A few our teens wrote this speech below, which they presented at representative Joseph Kennedy III's office.
When looking at the facts, for me, the need for expanding and updating background checks is indisputable. The rate of gun violence in the United States is up to 20 times more than in any other developed countries. Over 40% of guns sold in the U.S today are sold through unlicensed sellers, including at gun shows and online, where Brady background checks are not legally required. Therefore, people who would be otherwise prevented from acquiring guns under the Brady background checks, such as users of controlled substances, people who have committed domestic violence offences, or those declared as a mental defective, are able to gain possession of weapons. According to the Department of Justice, the Brady Bill has prohibited 600,000 disqualified individuals from purchasing guns since its enactment in 1994. However, this bill is clearly not enough considering the “Gun Show Loophole.” This loophole allows private sellers to display gun collections and sell them without the need for a background check. Expanding Brady background checks under the Fix Gun Checks Act would lower the 40% statistic, requiring background checks to all gun sales. This would in turn keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people like felons and fugitives, as well as domestic abusers who are 500 times more likely to kill if they have access to a gun. If the bill is passed, we would hope that the eight kids under the age of 19 who die daily from gun violence, wouldn’t have to.
Not only do we feel a moral commitment to this cause, but as reformed jews, we feel a religious obligation to gun violence prevention. Our Jewish tradition has long emphasized the sanctity and value of human life, and the carelessness with which lives are taken by guns stands in direct violation of our tradition. The Talmud states that “[for] he who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the universe and [for] he who saves one life it is as though he has saved the universe” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). Human life is an entity far too profound and valuable to be sacrificed in incidents of gun violence. Consequently, when we enact legislation to prevent these acts of violence, it is if we are saving entire worlds. And as Jews, we cannot be bystanders to the injustice of gun violence. Leviticus 19:16 tells us, “do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” At Temple Beth Elohim, congregation members have worked with the Massachusetts Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence on passing recent pivotal gun legislation. And as teens, we have worked with the Roxbury Presbyterian Church to raise money for primary prevention programs. None of us have the privilege to be idle in the fight against gun violence, and no single act of advocacy is too small. As Jews, we will continue to advocate for gun violence prevention, and we hope for Legislators in Washington to be inspired by our deeply-rooted Jewish tradition.
After leaving Washington D.C. this afternoon, I will return to my hometown of Newton Massachusetts. Residing in the greater Boston area, many citizens of Newton and surrounding areas live in comfort and relative ease with very little presence of gun violence. For the first 14 years of my life, I had extremely minimal interaction with firearms of any kind. Only once before had I seen a gun on the holster of a police officer in elementary school when a woman had come in to teach us about bike safety. A few years later, my freshman year of high school filled me with stress and anxiety, but even if that was the case, there was no need for me to worry about my safety surrounding stigmas of gun violence. Each day I would walk to and from the bus stop essentially oblivious to the world around me. Looking up one day, a car screeched to a jolting stop less than 10 feet from me. A man spilled out of the drivers side door and began waving a pistol, screaming that he would shoot anyone who moves. By this time, police had moved into position surrounding and secluding the potential shooter. Quickly and quietly I was urged over to safety beyond the police cars. I did not look behind me, I could not look behind me. If I did, it became real to me. To see this man, waving around a gun in the middle of Newton was utterly and completely alien to me. I was terrified beyond any words could describe. Ushered into a side street I continued my walk home. My hands shook and my heart leapt in my throat. For some, those situations may just be a part of their everyday life. But to me, that moment was one I will never forget. Later on, it was found that the man had been admitted to numerous psychiatric facilities for treatment of schizophrenia. However, due to poor out-of-date information and possibly even a lack of a background check, this man was allowed to purchase and obtain a firearm. I share this story with you because for me, I see this experience as once in a lifetime, but for others, this is their daily life. If this law was passed, background checks would become more thorough and necessary resulting in a severe drop in amounts of similar situations.
We want to sincerely thank Congressman Joe Kennedy for being one of the original co-sponsors in the 114th Congress of H.R 3411--The Fix Gun Checks Act. When the law is reintroduced in the 115th Congress, we strongly encourage Congressman Kennedy to continue supporting the act. Thank you for your time, and we look forward to hearing about gun violence prevention legislation in the future.
Inspired by our teens and want to make a difference? You can do any of these three things to help repair the world:
1.You can call your representative right now to support the Fix Gun Checks Act! All you have to do is call the Congress Switchboard at 202-224-3121.
2. Want to go on a similar experience? Talk to Sandy Aronson about the Consultation on Conscience, the Religious Action Center's flagship social justice conference!
3. You can Donate to our Youth Engagement Fund to support teens who want to turn their passions into action!