A little less than a year-and-a-half ago I wrote what turned out to be one of my more controversial columns, about gun violence in the United States (“The gun problem’s plain to see,” March 15, 2018). In the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 17 students and staff members were murdered by a former student, I was angry that so many politicians and even people in our New Jersey Jewish communities refused to acknowledge what was painfully obvious: “More guns means more death,” as I wrote.
The backlash was immediate, and the criticism as harsh as any I have been subjected to since joining NJJN. In letters from several readers I was called arrogant, a charlatan, an emasculated Jew, a hypocrite, a prime source of disaffection in our communities, one who considers himself morally superior, and “unbecomingly dainty.” More upsetting was a Holocaust survivor who wrote that I was a coward and the kind of Jew “who for centuries accepted all kinds of persecutions without any resistance and then meekly walked into the gas chambers.”
It got so bad that I remarked to friends that, ironically, I may have to purchase a firearm to protect myself from the gun owners angry that I had disparaged their unconditional fealty to the Second Amendment.
And here we are again. As Shabbat came to a close, I learned that 20 (a figure which has since risen to 22) people were shot dead in an El Paso, Tex., Walmart, and then I awoke Sunday morning to the news that nine more were killed during a rampage in Dayton, Ohio. These events were not surprising. Nothing has been done to curb gun violence since Parkland, so nothing has changed.
Well, almost nothing. In the interim, the members of the American-Jewish community ceased to be spectators; we became victims. Tragically, we are now intimately familiar with gun violence following shootings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pa., and at the Chabad of Poway in California; 11 were killed in the first incident, one in the next.
When I’ve spoken or corresponded with Jews who disagree with my anti-gun position — and my assertion that we have a moral obligation to advocate for, at the minimum, commonsense gun reform — the most popular argument used against me seems to be that before the Nazis rounded up the Jews, they took their guns.
I find this ridiculous. First of all, even as the vast majority of the American population is in favor of bolstering our gun laws, it’s the government leaders and enablers who repeatedly refuse to comply. Moreover, are we to believe that the Nazi military, which rolled over the bulk of Europe, could not have overwhelmed individual Jews — or even Jewish militias —if they had been armed? Jews’ access to guns in Germany would not have prevented the Shoah.
Since the shootings in El Paso and Dayton the “only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” talking point, a favorite of NRA enthusiasts, hasn’t been so popular. Gun advocates probably realize that the argument is not compelling this time around as there were likely a large number of good guys with guns inside the Walmart, in Texas, the state that ranks 34th in strict gun laws, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, and the superstore itself sells guns. And in Dayton, even though the good guys with guns — this time, as they so often are, wearing blue — stopped the bad guy just 30 seconds after he started shooting, the killer still had enough time to take out nine innocents and injure 26 more.
Lacking that faulty argument, gun apologists have resorted to blaming mental illness, despite research that “has shown that only a very small percentage of violent acts are committed by people who are diagnosed with, or in treatment for, mental illness,” American Psychological Association President Rosie Phillips Davis said on Sunday. She added that “[T]he rates of mental illness are roughly the same around the world, yet other countries are not experiencing these traumatic events as often as we face them.”
The other canard has been that shootings are a direct result of violent video games. Senate Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested as much in an interview on Fox News, as if the reason the U.S. can claim about 251 of the world’s 258-or-so mass shootings in 2019 is because we’re the only ones who play Fortnite and Call of Duty. Please. Stop insulting our intelligence by trying to trip us up with yet another straw man.
Truthfully, I’d also prefer to scrap the liberal talking point that these murderers have been inspired by the xenophobic rhetoric flowing out of the White House that emboldens White Nationalists. Mind you, I think it’s a fair criticism and worthy of debate, but by turning our attention toward politics we risk putting the gun issue on the backburner. Clearly the president isn’t going to change, so let the voters decide whether his language is racist and inflammatory in 2020. Until then, rather than worry about who or what is riling up these terrorists, we should pressure our government leaders to keep deadly weapons out of their hands.
That said, we all know how this will end. Politicians, Republicans and Democrats alike, will go on TV to condemn the violence and call for change — the president has already done so. Vigils will be held, and tears will be shed. Friends, relatives, and those injured will speak out against the NRA and their enablers. Then Alex Jones will claim the victims are crisis actors, gun ownership will rise, and after a shark bites a beachgoer or Joe Biden inadvertently refers to Barry Goldwater as a patriot, we’ll forget about this until more people die.
So yes, here we are again. There were almost 1,200 gun deaths in this country in the 12 months after Parkland, according to a study by McClatchy, and an analysis by Vox found that in the seven years since the Sandy Hook massacre — whose death toll included 20 small children — there were at least 2,193 mass shootings. Remember: Tree of Life and Poway are included in that last figure.
It makes me wonder what it will it take to convince my fellow Jews who oppose gun laws that what they think is the solution is actually the problem.
Contact Gabe Kahn at email@example.com or via Twitter: @sgabekahn.