Approximately 100,000 people are victims of gun violence annually in the United States, resulting in more than 31,000 deaths.
In the aftermath of the mass killings in Newtown, Conn.; San Bernardino, Calif.; and now the June 12 massacre in the gay nightclub in Orlando, Fla., the fight for gun violence protection being waged by two Highland Park Jewish women is gaining in intensity.
“We’re not calling it gun control because a lot of people are put off by that,” said Karen Kanter, the Middlesex County chair of the Brady Campaign for Gun Violence Protection. The organization urges gun safety education and legislative backing of gun safety regulations.
“People too often see this as violating their Second Amendment rights, but we need a greater meeting of the minds and for people to see that this is not threatening those rights,” she said. “These mass shooting events like the one in Orlando are horrifying and increasing in frequency.”
(Among the Democrats participating in last week’s 25-hour sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives aiming to force the Republicans to vote on gun control legislation were two representing parts of Middlesex County: Rep. Frank Pallone, whose District 6 covers parts of Middlesex and Monmouth counties; and Bonnie Watson Coleman, whose District 12 covers parts of Middlesex and Mercer counties.)
The Brady campaign, which has joined with the Million Mom March against Gun Violence, held its first meeting May 31 — before the Orlando shootings — at Highland Park Borough Hall.
Mayor Gayle Brill Mittler, a leader in the Million Mom March organization and as a member of the national group Mayors Against Illegal Guns, also hosted the meeting, which drew residents from throughout Middlesex and Somerset counties.
“We are part of a national organization involved in trying to get legislation passed to make it more difficult to get illegal guns,” said Mittler. “What’s good is that New Jersey has some of the toughest gun control laws in the country. But unfortunately people still get guns from states such as Pennsylvania that do not have such strict laws, and they flow in across the border.”
Mittler cited as a goal of the campaigns the passage into law of legislation that would further restrict access to firearms by convicted domestic abusers and those subject to domestic violence restraining orders; such legislation passed both the Senate and Assembly in New Jersey but has been vetoed twice by Gov. Chris Christie, most recently last month.
The potential effectiveness of such a law, said Mittler, is borne out by the fact that the shooter at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando “was a known domestic abuser.”
Both women touted the ASK (Asking Saves Kids) initiative being advocated by both groups, which encourages parents to ask the parents of their children’s playmates if there is a gun in the house and where it is kept.
“If a person says, ‘We do not keep it locked, but rather we leave it out,’ maybe you need to not have your child go over there and have that child come over to your house to play,” said Kanter. While parents don’t hesitate to inquire about other safety issues, Mittler said, they are often uncomfortable or simply don’t think of asking about gun safety. “If your son had a peanut allergy you wouldn’t be afraid to ask if there were peanuts in the house and if they would be safely out of the reach of your child,” she said.
According to statistics compiled by the Brady campaign, every day in the United States, 50 children and teens are shot in murders, assaults, suicides and suicide attempts, accidents, and police interventions; 60 percent of all gun sales occur without a background check, and 40 percent of private sales, without “any questions asked.”
“It’s always pretty crazy after a mass shooting” in terms of public outcry, said Kanter, a retired teacher/consultant. “Many people feel like they have to do something, and we are asking them to contact their legislators. New Jersey is quite strong in its gun laws, but we have to maintain that. We are also pushing for legislation on a national level to enact universal background checks and a ban on assault rifles.”
Both pointed out the campaign to end gun violence not only makes sense but is consistent with Jewish values.
“From a Jewish perspective, we have the concept of pikuach nefesh — to save a life is to save every life,” said Mittler, a former president of Highland Park Conservative Temple-Congregation Anshe Emeth. “Pushing for safe gun legislation is the Jewish thing to do. There are 310 million guns in this country, which is ridiculous. That is approximately 90 guns for every 100 people.”
Kanter, also a member of HPCT-CAE, said when considering the issue of gun violence, she always goes back to Hillel’s quote in Pirkei Avot, Ethics of the Fathers, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?”
“We all have a path to follow,” she said, “and we all must do whatever we can. We can’t wait for other people to do it for us.”
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