Until his father, Lester Mosbacher, was murdered during a holdup in 1999, Rabbi Joel Mosbacher cared about the issue of gun control “only in a theoretical way.”
Now, some 15 years later, he splits his time evenly between his Reform pulpit at Congregation Beth Haverim Shir Shalom in Mahwah and as a community organizer working to ensure that the guns used by law enforcement and military agencies do not fall into the hands of criminals.
Mosbacher and his colleagues at the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation citizens’ organizing network ask police and municipalities to deal only with manufacturers and dealers who sell guns responsibly, cooperate with law enforcement, and promote “smart guns” that can be fired only by their owners.
The campaign is intended to bypass the highly reluctant members of Congress and state legislatures and use what he calls “a market-based approach that involves marshalling the massive purchasing power of the police and military, who collectively buy 40 percent of the guns in this country.”
“We are saying to local, county, and state officials, ‘You also have power,’” said Mosbacher.
He will deliver his message on Nov. 23 at The Jewish Center in Princeton as part of its social action committee’s program on gun violence prevention.
He will be joined by Mandi Perlmutter, head of the NJ chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America; Reed Gusciora (D-Dist. 15), deputy majority leader of the NJ State Assembly; Glen Miller of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office; the Rev. Robert Moore, a minister from the United Church of Christ who serves as executive director of the Coalition for Peace Action; and Gianni Pirelli, a clinical and forensic psychologist.
“If some of the biggest purchasers of weapons ask collectively for better customer service, the gun manufacturers will have to listen,” Mosbacher told NJJN in a Nov. 4 phone interview.
Several NJ rabbis, including Elliott Tepperman of Bnai Keshet in Montclair, Faith Joy Dantowitz of Temple B’nai Abraham in Livingston, Steven Kushner of Temple Ner Tamid in Bloomfield, and Joel Abraham of Temple Sholom in Scotch Plains/Plainfield are also taking an active part in the campaign.
For more than a year, Mosbacher and his allies have been recruiting mayors, police chiefs, sheriffs, county executives, and governors to use their purchasing power to buy safe guns.
To date, 56 jurisdictions across the country, ranging from Mosbacher’s hometown of Mahwah to such cities as Pittsburgh and Sacramento and states like Illinois and Connecticut have agreed to consider purchasing safe guns.
The list in New Jersey includes Essex County and a dozen municipalities, including Montclair, West Orange, Allendale, Bloomfield, Fanwood, Jersey City, Livingston, Oakland, River Vale, South Orange, and Woodcliff Lake.
But, Mosbacher said, “a more impactful part” relates to gun distribution.
“There are 10,000 gun stores in the United States, but police tell us that the guns that turn up at crime scenes can be traced to 1 percent of those stores,” said Mosbacher. “What we are asking the gun companies is, since they decide whom they are going to sell their products to, why do they want to be associated with those stores, the worst gun stores in America?”
Perlmutter, an Essex County resident, said she became a gun control advocate when she needed to explain to her eight-year-old son about the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in December 2012, where a 20-year-old gunman fatally shot 20 children and six adults.
“It was a horrible moment,” she told NJJN. “He asked a lot of questions about why someone would do that and could it happen at his school. I felt his sense of safety was shattered. The next Monday when we drove to school and saw a police officer outside, it didn’t make him feel safer. It made him feel like his school wasn’t safe.
“If that is all we are doing and we are not addressing access to firearms, we are not doing a very good job of making our kids feel safer.”
Perlmutter became leader of the NJ chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “Mothers Against Drunk Driving was successful, and we have basically the same goal. We are pretty powerful. We have chapters in every state,” she said.
Her organization is intent on going toe-to-toe with the National Rifle Association, one of America’s most powerful lobbies, focusing first on mandating background checks for prospective gun buyers.
Perlmutter hailed a vote on Nov. 4 in Washington State, where some 60 percent of voters approved a measure requiring comprehensive background checks for gun permit applicants.
“It represents the next frontier for gun violence prevention,” she said. “This is the beginning of a long-term effort. We are now having conversations about gun safety and child access to guns that we haven’t had before. I see that as progress, but we know it is a marathon.”