Prepared Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism at the National Religious Leaders Press Conference in Remembrance of the Newtown tragedy.
Washington, D.C., December 21, 2012 - Thank you for being here this morning. Standing alongside leaders of denominations and organization representing scores of millions of Americans of faith - Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Quakers and Catholics - we gather here, one week after a national tragedy shattered our complacency and aroused the dormant conscience of our nation, to assure our elected officials that the American people are ready for leaders who will take on sensible gun control.
"With different religious beliefs and differing attitudes on the policy issues before us, we stand before one of America's great institutions of religious life, united in our response to the question: Is the need for sensible gun-control a religious issue?
You bet it is.
The indiscriminate distribution of guns is an offense against God and humanity.
Our gun-flooded, violence-prone society has turned weapons into idols. And the appropriate religious response to idolatry is sustained moral outrage.
What manner of nation are we that in the face of overwhelming support for stronger gun control, we can bring ourselves to legislate only the most anemic controls for the bloodiest problem we face? What manner of people are we that we can accept that we have lost more people to gun violence on our streets and in our homes than we have to all the wars in the history of our nation, more children every year than our brothers and sisters who perished on 9/11? The victims of violence overwhelm our emergency rooms, requiring the costliest of care, erode confidence in our communal institutions, and undermine our political, educational and civic institutions.
It doesn't have to be that way.
Twenty years ago, our legislators had the moral vision and political courage to pass an assault weapons ban. It wasn't perfect; some criminals were still able to procure such weapons but it was significantly harder and the number of crimes linked to assault weapons decreased more than 66 percent. How many innocent lives were saved during this ten year ban, we ask, citing a line found in several of our traditions: The ones who save even a single life, it is as though they have saved the whole world?
Our legislators and the gun lobby want to blame everyone but themselves. The problem, they say, is mental illness. On the one hand, tautologically, mass murderers are emotionally disturbed. On the other, the compelling evidence testifies that the overwhelming percentage of those with mental illness are not violent and those who are violent are far more often a danger to themselves than to others. More compellingly, in Canada and Japan, there are people with the same mental illnesses as here in America but they don't pick up their mother's legally obtained Bushmaster and randomly shoot people.
And as the past president of the Union for Reform Judaism, Rabbi Eric Yoffie, pointed out at the Million Mom March: our legislators and gun lobby too often blame our violent culture and violence in the media: violent action films, gory horror movies, violent computer games. And this is a deeply troubling problem. Yes, there is far too much violent entertainment, and it corrodes our children's souls. But in the U.K. and Germany, children watch the same movies and play the same computer games, and they don't kill anyone afterward.
The children in Germany, Japan, the U.K. and Canada - and so many other nations across the globe - with far less gun violence than we, are not more religious than our children, and their parents are not better parents than we are. What distinguishes us from them is the prevalence of our guns, and the reticence of our leaders to act with courage on this issue.
We come here with one voice, loud and strong, to challenge the common wisdom that the forces of the status quo are too formidable, that the American people are too complacent, that our leadership is too reticent.
We are here to say it is time to help take assault weapons and semi-automatic weapons off our streets;
We are here to say it is time to enforce background checks that really work.
We are here to say we must ban high capacity ammunition clips.
We are here to call on the millions of parents in our pews to demand action to protect their children.
We are here to ask our clergy to preach from their pulpits on this issue between now and February 5th and send their sermons to their senators and congresspersons, the congregations and their local media.
We are here to announce that we will ask our clergy and social justice leaders to mobilize scores of thousands of telephone calls to flood Congress on February 5th with the demand that effective action towards sensible gun control be taken now.
We stand here, on Dec. 21st, the darkest day of the year, to bring the light of our moral insights to our nation's public discourse.
We are here today, as we will be here in the future, for one reason above all - that the children of Newtown will not be forgotten by our lawmakers and that hope and some good might yet come from this national tragedy."