By sitting at home doing nothing and adopting a policy of passivity,” said Rabbi Mark Cooper, “we’re responsible for enabling those who are inclined to commit acts of violence to succeed.”
The religious leader of Oheb Shalom Congregation addressed a crowd of over 100 May 19 at the South Orange synagogue during an interfaith forum on gun violence.
Speakers included a gun control advocate, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-Dist. 6), and local clergy.
Cooper said the event sponsors — the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, Oheb Shalom, Wells Cathedral Church of God in Christ in Newark, St. Andrew and Holy Communion Episcopal Church in South Orange, First Baptist Church in South Orange, and Morrow Memorial United Methodist Church in Maplewood — are “committed to education and rooted in the belief that education must lead to advocacy.”
The featured speaker was Robert Tessaro, former national law enforcement director of the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In his overview of current gun safety legislation, he cited statistics on the prevalence and toll of gun violence in the United States.
“There are between 280 and 320 million civilian-owned guns in the U.S. compared to just four million owned by law enforcement,” said Tessaro, founder and president of the Fort Lee-based Safe School Technologies, which helps school districts implement anti-bullying programs.
“New Jersey is getting tougher, but 88 percent of guns recovered from crime sites in New Jersey are from out of state,” Tessaro told NJJN. “We need to put pressure on lawmakers to regulate these.”
Tessaro urged audience members to support universal background checks and legislation to reduce the capacity of ammunition magazines, and oppose “concealed carry reciprocity” statutes. “What we do on the local level can have a national impact,” he said.
Pallone said a vocal contingent prevented the Senate from voting in favor of universal background checks last month.
“There’s a tremendous amount of energy from those opposed to gun safety legislation, and I believe they’ve mischaracterized what we’ve set out to do,” he said. “They feel that we’re talking about taking away their fundamental right as Americans to bear arms, when in fact we’re just trying to apply common-sense limitations on assault weapons or high-capacity magazines, which have no legitimate purpose other than to kill people in battle.
“It’s crucial that we pass gun safety legislation,” said Pallone, “especially for universal background checks.”
The forum was the idea of South Orange resident and longtime Oheb Shalom congregant Margery Cohen.
“The country has to be awakened to the need to engage legislators in helping to prevent gun violence,” she said. “I feel fortunate to belong to a congregation with a Social Action Team that feels the same way and is committed to doing something about it.”
The forum included a “Silent Shoe March,” an exhibit of dozens of pairs of shoes symbolically representing victims of gun violence.
Other speakers included Bishop Hersey Taylor of the Wells Cathedral Church of God in Christ; Reverend Terry Richardson of the First Baptist Church; Reverend Sandye Wilson of the Episcopal Church of St. Andrew and Holy Communion; and Melanie Roth Gorelick, director of the Community Relations Committee for the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ.
Gorelick shared letters of support for the evening’s forum from New Jersey Senators Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, both Democrats. The event concluded with a group prayer led by clergy members Cooper, Taylor, Richardson, and Wilson.