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‘I haven’t caught my breath since Newtown’
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‘I haven’t caught my breath since Newtown’

Millburn resident aims to keep weapons out of the wrong hands

Peter Feinberg, second from left, organized a gun safety forum in Millburn that included, from left, superintendent of schools James Crisfield, Lt. Peter Corbo of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, Assemblyman John McKeon, Millburn Mayor Robert Till
Peter Feinberg, second from left, organized a gun safety forum in Millburn that included, from left, superintendent of schools James Crisfield, Lt. Peter Corbo of the Essex County Sheriff’s Office, Assemblyman John McKeon, Millburn Mayor Robert Till

Peter Feinberg, a member of Temple Sharey Tefilo-Israel in South Orange, is — like his mother Betty and late father Sheldon — a passionate Zionist. 

Like his parents, Feinberg is a major donor to the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, and the Feinberg Center — a day care, arts, and therapeutic sports facility in Israel’s Rishon Letzion — is named in his father’s memory. 

Closer to home, Feinberg sees another issue very much in keeping with his Jewish values: gun safety. “It’s about giving back,” he said. “This is an issue that touches everyone from all groups, but respect for life is such an important part of Judaism.”

On Oct. 14, Feinberg, an investor, organized a public forum on the issue, featuring speakers who included leaders from law enforcement, education, and local government and two men with direct experience of gun violence: Tom McDermott, who was wounded in the Long Island Rail Road shooting in December 1993, and Bill Sherlach, whose wife died in the December 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where she was a guidance counselor.

“I love this community with an absolute passion, and I have raised three children there,” Feinberg said, “but I still haven’t completely caught my breath since the Newtown shooting, and I could not sit on the sidelines and do nothing.”

The tipping point for him came when the local police chief mentioned that applications for gun permits were on the rise locally. Feinberg decided to focus simply on the wisest ways to keep weapons out of the wrong hands, in the same way that home owners and businesses secure medications and precious possessions. 

Feinberg organized the Millburn Gun Safety Forum committee, a coalition of local residents and people involved in the Million Mom March for tighter gun control and the Millburn High School Gun Violence Prevention club, a group founded this year by MHS junior Abigail Saltzman.

About 120 people came to the forum, where McDermott described looking down the barrel of a gun that murdered six people and injured 19 others. Sherlach related how on Dec. 14, 2012, he kissed his wife of 31 years good-bye, with a promise to meet her for lunch at their favorite pizza place. Half an hour later he got the call that she’d been killed.

Sherlach called for efforts to “target the sensible center,” avoiding extremists on either side of the gun control debate. That means educating parents, empowering communities, developing tools to support mental health, and employing school-based policies like “No one eats alone” and “Know me, know my name.”

At the forum, Dr. James Crisfield, superintendent of schools in the Millburn school district, described safety procedures in the schools. National gun death statistics were outlined by Robert V. Tessaro, founder and president of Safe School Technologies and the former director of law enforcement relations of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. 

Among the other speakers were Mila Jasey and John McKeon, Democratic State Assembly representatives from New Jersey’s 27th Legislative District. McKeon sponsored a bill that passed in September creating a permanent series of gun buybacks in New Jersey.

Feinberg told a reporter that he is determined to keep his approach to the issue politically neutral. 

“This is about gun safety — that basic, that shallow,” Feinberg said.

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