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Statement of Rabbi David Saperstein Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism on the Release of an Interfaith Sign-On Letter Urging Stricter Gun Control
Wednesday, March 15, 2000
Washington, DC

In Judaism, we are taught that "he who takes one life it is as though he has destroyed the world." No one knows the truth of that statement more fully than the survivors of gun violence.

For the survivors of the 95 Americans who lose their lives every day to gun violence, 95 worlds are destroyed.

For the survivors of the 12 children killed by guns every day, 12 worlds are destroyed.

For the survivors of the six-year-old girl killed by a classmate, a precious and beautiful world was destroyed.

It is to this end — the preservation of life — that these 100 national and local religious leaders have joined with one voice to encourage President Clinton and Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Andrew Cuomo to continue their vigorous efforts to address gun violence in our nation. The victims of gun violence, their families and their neighbors are the members of our churches and synagogues. It is as their pastors and as bearers of a common prophetic vision that we stand here today.

In joining with Secretary Cuomo this morning, we focus particularly on our fellow citizens who live in public housing, for which the federal government has special responsibility. If the residents of public housing faced only the challenges and struggle of poverty, this would be enough. But far too often they must face as well the constant threat of gun violence. Encouragingly, this administration, which has done more than any other to improve public housing and address both the symptoms and causes of such violence, is now addressing the source of the guns themselves This effort calls for the support of all caring Americans.

Too often the residents of public housing must duck under windows at the too-frequent, too-familiar pops of gunfire. They must worry that a child's passing insult could lead to a lifetime of loss. They stand far too often at the bedsides, wheelchairs, and graves of friends and loved ones cut down by gun violence.

Who are these people? Whose worlds have been destroyed by guns?

They are white and Black, Latino and Asian, young and old, employed and unemployed, law followers and law breakers. But whatever they were, whatever the specific contours of their lives, they have lost forever the chance to become what they might have been. They have lost forever the chance to watch children and grandchildren grow; to better their lives and the lives of their children; to help their communities overcome the demons of our nation's neglect.

And as if this were not enough, they must face a gun industry and a gun lobby too many of whom are unethical in their marketing, irresponsible in their selling, and apparently unconcerned about the source of their profits.

So today, religious leaders join with public housing residents, leaders, and advocates to send a clear and unmistakable message to gun manufacturers: clean up your act so that we may clean up our neighborhoods.

To those who look the other way while gun dealers break the law: it is time for you to stop.

To those who market firearms in a way that attracts criminals: your actions are unacceptable.

To those who resist gun safety measures: it is time for you to join us.

And to those who profit from gun sales while so many perish from gun violence: you must do better.

Our letter today is, appropriately, addressed to the American people. Today, we issue to you a challenge: join us in stopping gun violence, in making our communities places of refuge rather than rampage, our nation a beacon of hope rather than a paragon of helplessness, our society nurtured by an ethic of the shared search for peace rather than stunted and disfigured by our self-defeating culture of violence. Our challenge is a practical one, it is a legal one, and most of all it is a moral one. Join us in standing up and accepting responsibility for reforming our communities, for refining our culture, and for adapting our laws.

We in the Religious Coalition to Stop Gun Violence will not stop until guns are regulated like other dangerous consumer products.

We will not stop until dealers who are caught flaunting gun laws once do not get the chance to do so again.

We will not stop until marketing to children ceases, until easy access for criminals ends, and until the gun industry and the Congress take steps to ensure only those law-abiding citizens who can use guns safely can own guns.

We will not stop until Congress passes the common-sense gun control legislation a majority of Americans — including many gun owners themselves — have clearly said they want.

And we will not stop until the churches, synagogues, temples and mosques of America have joined together in meeting our responsibility, along with our schools, our media, our industries, and our parents, to reign in our culture of violence and to show our children that there is a better way.

Note: Copies of the religious leaders sign-on letter are available upon request.


The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, representing its 895 congregations across North America, whose membership includes 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the 1700 rabbis of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

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