Thursday, October 5, 2017

No Time for Gun Violence

During Sukkot we read the words of Kohelet:
A season is set for everything, a time for every experience under heaven.
A time for being born and a time for dying,
A time for planting and a time for uprooting the planted;
A time for killing and a time for healing… (Ecclesiastes 3)
No! This week, I reject these words.

I am old enough to have witnessed monumental cultural shifts that I never imagined would come to pass. In fact I attended high school in the days when people thought drunk driving would forever be a part of our culture. Schools were accustomed to the grim task of comforting students after a teenager was killed when driving under the influence. But then Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) was founded and the world began to shift. By the time my brother graduated from high school, four years later, parents and their teenage children had begun to adopt different attitudes.

Drunk driving was no longer viewed as acceptable. The term designated driver, unknown and even derided during my high school years, became commonplace. Of course people are still killed by drunk drivers. And teenagers still do dangerous things. This problem, and its tragic consequences, can never be completely eradicated. But the number of deaths has declined. More importantly, the culture of acceptance was by and large erased.

I am saddened that 58 people were murdered, and over 500 injured, by a lone gunman in Las Vegas. I am angered that such massacres have become commonplace. I am outraged that I read the papers and watch the news as if such events are to be expected. My acceptance of these massacres is an outrage. Our acceptance is damning.

It is possible to change our culture.

It is possible to make it more difficult, if not impossible, for people to stockpile guns and ammunition as if they are preparing for war. I recognize that many people see gun ownership as a fundamental right, but it should be obvious that no rights are absolute. There can be sensible limits. There can be reasonable controls.

How about this for starters? If the weapon, or the ammunition, is designed for the military then it can only be used by the military and not purchased by an ordinary citizen. How about required safety classes? How about aggressive licensing? Guns are lethal. We should be able to safeguard people’s constitutional rights while better ensuring the safety of all citizens.

When I was in high school we became accustomed to the occasional tragic news story following the weekend of parties. It was all too familiar. That is no longer so commonplace. That is no longer deemed acceptable.

Instead our children are now taught lock down drills. Why is this deemed acceptable?

I am old enough to remember, and still young enough not to be resigned to fate.

The world can change. The world must change.

Long ago the rabbis debated whether Kohelet’s words should be called sacred. They argued about this peculiar biblical book. It is unsettling. It suggests that all our pursuits are futile. It opens with the declaration: “Utter futility! Utter futility! All is futile!” It is depressing in its fatalism.

Today it mirrors the words of countless politicians and pundits.

Why did the rabbis argue about this book? It is because it runs counter to the Jewish ethos still echoing in our ears from the High Holiday prayers. We can change. We can make amends. Our lives are in our hands. Our destiny is for us to shape.

In the aftermath of yet another massacre I will no longer accept what has become all too commonplace. It is not only about the shooter’s psychology. It is also about how many weapons he was so easily able to amass. It is these weapons that transformed his killing into a massacre. The countless attempts to understand his motives undermine the more important efforts to bring about meaningful change.

We can no longer align ourselves with Kohelet’s resignation.
There is a time for weeping and a time for laughing,
A time for wailing and a time for dancing.
This did not have to be such a time! I will not share in the author’s fatalism. I say instead, “A twisted thing can indeed be made straight.”

I am old enough to have witnessed monumental cultural shifts that I never imagined would come to pass. I therefore believe that change is still possible. I am young enough not to place faith in Kohelet’s pessimism. I refuse to be discouraged by his resignation to fate.

We must instead have faith that the world can change. We must believe that we are destined to be the agents of such change.

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